Already, Bush Camp Hears Whispers About Transition

Times Political Writer

There are two thoughts in collision on the George Bush campaign plane: Don’t be overconfident about winning but be ready to govern if you do.

All around Bush, ready or not--perhaps to a greater extent than he wants, or wants known--there is talk of transition .

With 2 1/2 weeks remaining in the campaign and Bush ahead in the polls, resumes of would-be bureaucrats are beginning to pour into the office of Chase Untermeyer, the friend and one-time executive assistant Bush has put in charge of contingency planning.

Bush himself is contemplating a plan for the first few days after the election if he wins, one aide said.


He is expected to vote and spend Tuesday, election night, in Houston. From there, this source said, it was expected he would hold a press conference Wednesday and return to Washington.

On Thursday, “He would be on the job in Washington, facing the key decisions he needs to make to set a transition in motion.”

Some Days Off

Bush has expressed his desire to take a few days off after that--but has not decided where. One source who sat in on a meeting at which this subject was discussed said Bush expressed a preference to go to the family compound in Kennebunkport, Me., but that aides were trying to interest him in a warmer destination.


“We’d mention one or another, and he’d say: ‘Oh no, I can’t afford that,’ ” recalled one staffer.

Such planning is not irregular, but it is a clear indicator of the mood of a campaign running ahead. Bush aides insist the GOP nominee is really no further along with transition contingency planning than Democrat Michael S. Dukakis. But Dukakis has an all-consuming task--overtaking Bush.

At a recent press conference, Bush brought the transition operation out into the open. But he cautioned about making too much of it.

Yes, Bush said, he has appointed his friend and former executive assistant Untermeyer, a Houston attorney, to draw up “wiring diagrams of what we have to do should we win. It would be a matter of urgent priority because I want to be ready to move.”

The vice president, however, appealed for consideration. Do not confuse this necessary planning with overconfidence in these final days, he asked. To his staff and perhaps to himself, he pleaded, do not drop your guard to chase the tantalizing allure of transition to power.

“I just cannot let myself get distracted into thinking about that,” Bush said. “I’m not going to do something dumb.”

At many stops along the campaign trial, Bush tells audiences he is running as if he is behind. “In my own view the election still hangs in the balance,” he declared Friday during a three-city tour of Ohio. “We must run as underdogs. Never letting up.”

In a speech at the University of Toledo, he seemed to be letting himself think ahead just ever so slightly to the future. “If I’m elected President, if I’m remembered for anything, it would be this: a complete and total ban on chemical weapons--their destruction forever. That’s my solemn mission,” Bush said


He did not mention his 1983 and 1986 tie-breaking votes in the U.S. Senate in favor of continuing production of a new generation of chemical bombs, called the Bigeye.

Bush foreign policy adviser Dennis Ross said that modernizing chemical arsenals was an essential step toward negotiating a ban on such weapons. “If you want to have an agreement with the Soviets you cannot unilaterally disarm,” said Ross.

But even as he campaigns dawn-to-late-night with his life’s ambitious set on Nov. 8, Bush has found the subject of a transition sometimes irresistible.

“When he has time, he is thinking it through in his own mind. But he worries when he is behind (and) he worries more when he is ahead, so that hasn’t allowed all that much time,” said Chief of Staff Craig Fuller.

Already, reports are surfacing about potential Cabinet appointees. Some of the standard speculation has James A. Baker III at the State Department, Nicholas F. Brady staying at the Treasury, former Sen. John G. Tower possibly to Defense, Dick Thornburgh staying at Justice, Lauro F. Cavazos staying at Education and Richard G. Darman perhaps to the Office of Management and Budget.

At this, Bush all but tears his hair out.

“Nobody believes me. Nobody in this room believes me,” he told a gathering of reporters. “But I am telling you the truth--the whole truth . . . there are no names or lists.”

But there is no doubt that many others--including close associates--are speculating about a Bush Administration, and barring a turnaround in the polls the speculation is likely to intensify.


By the middle of next week, Bush’s schedule for the rest of the campaign will be settled. His speeches will be written. His advertising time purchased and all the commercials edited.

“Then everyone is free to try and start dividing up the pie,” said one high-ranking Bush associate, who appeared to dread the forecast.

By all accounts, Bush has issued strict orders not to allow transition talk to delve into personnel and policy matters. “This is a plan of structure and process--the way by which personnel would be recruited, the way policy would be formed, not personnel or policy themselves,” said Untermeyer, who works out of an office at Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington.

Thus it is unclear which of his campaign themes might receive early action, or in many cases how he intends to fulfill such goals as deficit reduction, arms control and environmental protection. For example, would Bush seek to design his own budget proposal or leave it to outgoing President Reagan?

So far Bush has offered only vaguely phrased pledges or flat “no comments,” leaving him considerable--some would say excessive--flexibility.

On personnel matters, there are likely to be ideological tensions and tests.

When Reagan took power eight years ago, right-wing conservative movement activists were given key roles in shaping the Administration before managers were brought in to run it.

Already some pragmatists around Bush believe he should do differently. They advise freezing out movement activists and giving authority directly to the bureaucrats who will be running the government.

And there are some would-be transition challenges unique to Bush.

Like the friendship factor.

Eight years as vice president have allowed Bush the free time to build what legend has is the largest and most lavishly attended Rolodex in politics. Literally thousands of backers are accustomed to receiving personal notes and attention from the vice president. And they will want the same if Bush is elected.

“That standard of being responsive to friends has been important to him his whole life. It will be just as important to him as President-elect and President,” said Chief of Staff Fuller.