Bush, the Insider, Will Forgo Usual Kitchen Cabinet

Times Staff Writer

Don’t look for a Kitchen Cabinet from George Bush.

When Bush takes the oath of office today, he will become the first new President in many years who will not have an inner circle of advisers--former business associates, card-playing cronies, Army buddies and the like--who serve as an informal but indispensable corps of non-governmental advisers.

Unlike Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, his two predecessors, Bush has himself been a Washington insider for most of the past two decades. He has retained a few friends from his earlier days as a Texas oilman--notably James A. Baker III, Nicholas F. Brady and Robert A. Mosbacher.

But they will be in the real Cabinet, not the Kitchen Cabinet: Baker as secretary of state, Brady as Treasury secretary and Mosbacher as Commerce secretary.


The close associates whom Bush has developed more recently have worked in his vice presidential office and on his presidential campaign, and they too will be part of the government. These include C. Boyden Gray, formerly counsel to the vice president and soon to be chief White House counsel; David Bates, deputy chief of the vice president’s staff and soon to be Cabinet secretary; Chase Untermeyer, a longtime personal aide who is soon to be personnel director, and Andrew Card, a campaign operative who will be a top deputy to the White House chief of staff.

“I don’t see any evidence so far of any kind of insiders’ group,” said Alexander B. Trowbridge Jr., head of the National Assn. of Manufacturers, a longtime acquaintance of Bush’s from the business world and a former Commerce secretary.

Reflection of Style

“All the people he’s picked for the main economic policy areas seem to have a longstanding close relationship of trust with George Bush,” Trowbridge said. “These are people he’s been talking to for years, and they’ve been on a first-name basis with him for years. But they also know their way around Washington and the ways of government. That makes a potent combination, and we haven’t had that for a while.”

The absence of a distinct outside advisers clique is a reflection of Bush’s management style.

When Bush wants another viewpoint on an issue, he is more likely to call on a wide array of acquaintances than a few longtime cronies, those close to him say.

“He’s a very open and approachable person,” said Richard Rahn, chief economist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and husband of Bush’s key speech writer, Peggy Noonan. “He sure makes a lot of phone calls. He touches base with an enormous number of people. That’s always been his habit, and it was even more so in the campaign. We’re not going to have one of those presidencies where the man in the White House cuts himself off. It won’t be like Johnson, Nixon, Carter, even Reagan--who all had their barriers.”

If Bush did have a Kitchen Cabinet, former White House National Security Adviser Richard V. Allen said in an interview several months ago, “the numbers would already be in three digits, maybe four.”

That is a sharp departure from his immediate predecessors, who came to the White House as outsiders intent on changing the Washington way of government, and relied on longtime friends for advice on doing it.

Eight years ago, when Reagan swept into office promising to curb an entrenched government bureaucracy, considerable influence was vested in a shadow cabinet of conservative Western businessmen: Holmes Tuttle, Joseph Coors and Justin Dart among them--who provided suggestions and observations.

In fact, Reagan’s pre-inaugural Kitchen Cabinet is believed to have been behind some of the new President’s initial Cabinet appointments.

During his term, Carter depended heavily on a tight inner circle, largely drawn from the political and business world in Georgia, where he had been governor. Some critics blamed the outsiders’ sway for the problems Carter had in making Washington’s government machinery work for him.

The last previous elected chief executive before Carter, Richard M. Nixon, plotted his moves with a coterie of Southern California public relations men and political tacticians who were little known until the Watergate scandal exposed his presidency’s inner workings.

Bush, said his Chief of Staff John Sununu, “is a different person than the President in the last Administration or the Administration before that or the Administration before that. Presidents really do have their own way of doing things.”

The new President’s strong ties to the Washington establishment and his style of telephone outreach may bring more viewpoints and different insights into key executive decisions, but it also poses a significant challenge for his staff.

How to capture all the information gathered and commitments made in those far-flung calls and contacts.

“The nightmare that I have are these little notes that he types himself on his typewriter defining policy sometimes. That’s real, and you’re not going to change that and you ought not even try to change that. You just build the system to adapt to it and realize that it’s going to continue,” Sununu said in a recent interview.

Added Rahn: “I wonder how he finds time for all the phone calls and all the notes he passes around.”