This is how the media would write the story of George Bush’s second term if they had their way:
Washington, D.C.–President Bush announced that former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle would be his new White House counsel, in a move interpreted as part of an effort to reach out to Democrats. The Bush team has abandoned its euphoria over a victory that had the president winning a higher percentage of the popular vote than the last three Democrats elected to the White House, and instead reconciled itself to the reality that in a polarized political environment, elevating partisan enemies and encouraging internal critics is the only way to govern effectively.
“We realize that merely winning 51 percent of the vote, a higher percentage than any Democrat in 40 years, doesn’t cut it anymore,” said a chastened White House official. “Sure, Clinton tried to implement his ideas after winning 43 percent and 49 percent of the vote in 1992 and 1996 respectively, but that was a different time. We know we have to find a place within our administration for people who hate us and our ideas. That’s what democracy is all about.”
Bush set the tone for the day by throwing his arm around Daschle and saying: “Tommy fought every day to obstruct my agenda and paid the ultimate political price in a crushing defeat. That is the sort of pluck and political courage that should be honored in Washington–and that’s exactly what I intend to do.”
Not everyone was happy with the appointment. A statement released by the Senate Democratic caucus said: “This appointment is empty symbolism from an administration with no mandate. It is the rankest hypocrisy to select Daschle while leaving Sen. Carl Levin (Mich.), who has done as much if not more to obstruct Bush’s judges, out in the cold.” The senior White House official sighed, “I guess we’re just going to have to try harder.”
The Daschle move comes the same week that Bush reached out to Secretary of State Colin Powell, begging him to stay on to continue, as one State Department insider familiar with the conversation put it, “to sabotage the Bush policy from within.” A close friend of Powell’s said: “It was extremely gratifying to Colin that the president finally gave his role in fomenting internal dissension the recognition it deserves. Colin interprets this as a mandate for four more years of self-serving backbiting.”
Bush’s maneuvers represent a departure from his typical political style. Bush usually presents voters with clear policy ideas and, should he win, implements them. “We all realized that was just too simplistic,” a Bush official said. “Look, there’s no getting around the fact that 55 million people voted for ‘nuance’ and incoherence. That’s exactly what we’re going to give them.”
White House Chief of Staff Andy Card will stay on board, but under strict orders, say insiders, to leak once a day to Dana Milbank of the Washington Post or David Sanger of the New York Times. “There’s such a thing as being too loyal,” said a Bush loyalist, who spoke extensively about sensitive internal deliberations in keeping with a new leak-friendly policy. “That was Andy in the first term. We’re trying to wean him of the idea that his job is about serving the president. If you don’t see Dana or David with damaging inside stuff soon, you know we’ve still got work to do.”
The Bush team’s ambition in implementing its new approach was evident in rumors of a shake-up at the Republican National Committee. Soon-to-depart Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe is being considered for a post there. “The problem is, the Republicans have a slight majority in the country, which isn’t very bipartisan if you think about,” said a member of the Bush political team. “We’ve got to get some of the ineffectual guys from the other side working for us, so they can help tamp down our popularity. Terry would be perfect. We’re considering Bob Shrum too–if we can get him to come down on his fee.”
–Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.
(c) 2004 King Features Syndicate