George Bush, who has turned to moderate Republicans for his first appointments as President-elect, is feeling mounting pressure from the right wing to provide prominent positions in his new Administration to Republicans of a decidedly conservative ideology.
As the successor to Ronald Reagan, the most conservative President in recent decades, Bush faces a particularly delicate job in the 70 days before his inauguration. Conservatives supported him in his race against Democrat Michael S. Dukakis, and they expect their rewards.
“The right wing is going to holler,” said Carl Brauer of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, a specialist on presidential transitions. “They are looking for their pound of flesh.”
Brauer described Bush’s first appointees as “pragmatic Republicans . . . not Reaganites.” They include James A. Baker III, Bush’s longtime confidant, whom he named Wednesday as his choice for secretary of state, and two other campaign advisers, Craig Fuller and Robert Teeter, whom he named as co-directors of his transition operation.
Now, Brauer said, right-wing Republicans are warily awaiting other appointments for signs that the rest of the Bush team will have ideological credentials more to their liking.
They want some current officeholders--notably Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh--to be replaced.
“Most conservatives are concerned about Dick Thornburgh,” said Richard A. Viguerie, the former publisher of Conservative Digest. “We hear Thornburgh sounding like he’s trying to get Ted Kennedy’s approval, not Jesse Helms’.”
Thornburgh, a former governor of Pennsylvania, took over as attorney general last August after Edwin Meese III, a hero of conservatives, resigned amid charges of financial irregularities.
Elsewhere in the bureaucracy, conservatives are on guard against any sweeping replacement of Reaganite conservatives with more moderate Republicans.
“That’s why I say look at the Department of Interior,” said Philip Truluck, executive vice president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, where Meese now has an office. “There’s a pretty good bunch of people over there. If there was a wholesale sweep, and they were replaced by people with a whole different set of philosophies, that would raise a question. But I don’t see that kind of thing happening.”
However, there are no major Reagan Administration officials whose reappointment is being demanded by conservatives.
Two of their enduring champions within the government are Assistant Atty. Gen. William Bradford Reynolds, chief of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, and Elliott Abrams, assistant secretary of state for Latin America. But Reynolds resigned Wednesday, effective Dec. 9, and Abrams is known to want to depart after eight years in government.
Another early favorite of conservatives in the State Department, Chester Crocker, assistant secretary for Africa, lost favor for trying to strike a deal with leftist Angola over neighboring Namibia.
“I can’t think of anyone now who is symbolically important (to conservatives) by himself,” Truluck said.
Bush is facing unusual pressures because he is succeeding a chief executive of his own political party.
First Since Hoover
Presidents who take over from the other party, as Reagan did in 1980, face no such pressures to retain top officials of the previous regime. Bush is the first elected President from the same party as his predecessor since Herbert Hoover was elected in 1928 to succeed Calvin Coolidge.
“It is a handicap to any man to succeed a member of his own party as President,” Hoover wrote in his memoirs. “He has little patronage with which to reward his personal supporters. This was especially true in my case, as Mr. Coolidge had with few exceptions left me a most able body of public servants.”
Chase Untermeyer, who kept a copy of Hoover’s memoirs on his desk when he served as head of transition planning for Bush during the campaign, said that Bush, unlike Hoover, would not hesitate to sweep away the appointees he inherits.
“If Bush wins,” Untermeyer insisted shortly before Tuesday’s election, “it will not be Ronald Reagan’s third term.”
Now Untermeyer is Bush’s personnel director during the transition to the new Administration, and he will have considerable influence in selecting people for positions below Cabinet level. And Bush himself has made it clear that he does not intend to keep many holdovers from the Reagan Administration.
“I will, for the most part, bring in a brand new team of people from across the country,” Bush said Wednesday, “and, in my view, that will reinvigorate the process.”
There are some likely exceptions at the Cabinet level. Bush is considered likely to keep two men who got their jobs only in the last year--Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady, a longtime Bush associate, and Education Secretary Lauro F. Cavazos, who would fulfill Bush’s promise to appoint a Latino to his Cabinet.
And, despite conservative pressure, Thornburgh also is considered a candidate to retain his post.
To make it easier for Bush to clean house, Reagan on Thursday directed the 525 most senior officials in his government to submit letters of resignation, effective Jan. 20. That will allow Bush to name replacements without having to fire anyone.
That may prove useful, because a substantial number of loyal Republicans would like to be asked to remain.
“I am going on the assumption that I am leaving,” said a Defense Department official who asked not to be named. “I’d like to stay. I think I would do some good. But I understand there are debts to be paid off to the Bush folks. Everybody I know here is of the assumption that he is going to leave. But they would stay if asked.”
To Fill 5,000 Jobs
Reagan appointees, despite their letters of resignation, could hang on for several months into the Bush Administration because it may take that long to replace them. Bush has the authority to fill almost 5,000 jobs, 700 of them important enough to need Senate confirmation. Not nearly that many are likely to be filled by inauguration day.
In a recent study, the Center for Excellence in Government listed what it regarded as the 116 most important posts in government below the level of the Cabinet. When asked if he expected most of those jobs to be filled by Bush before inauguration, Mark A. Abramson, executive director of the center, replied: “If you get half, we’d be doing good.”
The speed of Baker’s appointment was unprecedented. Brauer, the Harvard historian of transitions, said that he knew of no other case in which a President-elect had named a member of the Cabinet the day after election. Presidents Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy did not name their secretaries of state until December.
As President Dwight D. Eisenhower prepared to turn the White House over to Kennedy in 1961, his budget director, Maurice H. Stans, said at one of the last National Security Council meetings that “for an enemy, Jan. 20 (inauguration day) would be the ideal date for an attack on the United States.” Eisenhower replied: “I share your concern.”
Dean Rusk, who was named secretary of state by John F. Kennedy only a day after he had met him for the first time in mid-December of 1960, recently attributed the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco in large part to the Kennedy team’s lack of experience in working together.
“The senior members of the Kennedy Administration,” Rusk wrote, “were in a shakedown period in which they were feeling their way about working with others and for a new President. Many of them were strangers to each other--and to the President.”
David M. Abshire, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, hailed Bush at a news conference Thursday for his swift appointment of Baker and stressed that other appointments should be announced soon to ensure teamwork among the top officials as soon as possible.
“The last two administrations,” Abshire said, “have had serious problems in teamwork.”