If Mitt Romney wins the presidency, there of course will be a changing of the guard in Washington from Democrats to Republicans in every agency, department, commission and White House staff job. But there will likely be a generational shift for Republicans as well.
Two factors will enhance the likelihood that a Romney administration will see a plethora of new faces.
Every administration carries over experienced players from previous presidents of his own party, but Romney plainly wants to mark a demarcation from the Bush presidency. That doesn’t mean there won’t be prominent players who served in the Bush administration, but they may well be those who were a rung or two down in the Bush presidency who now will replace familiar names in the GOP constellation of office holders (e.g. Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Robert Gates).
Second, Romney’s staff insist he is committed to broadening the base and diversifying the image of the GOP, as well as going outside the coterie of Washington insiders. That will naturally happen when key Romney campaign insiders (e.g. Beth Myers) would likely follow him to the White House.
For example, let’s consider the Defense and Homeland Security Departments. In place of Republican stalwarts from the 1980’s and 1990’s it is easy to imagine bright lights like Mary Beth Long (the first female assistants secretary of defense), Fran Townsend, Juan Zarate or, if she loses her Senate race, former New Mexico congresswoman and Air Force veteran Heather Wilson.
At the Justice Department, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (a former Army attorney and state attorney general) would be a natural fit, but selecting a conservative superstar like Miguel Estrada (denied an appellate court confirmation) would both break barriers and excite conservatives. (He’s probably the only conservative favorite who boasts a strong recommendation from Justice Elena Kagan).
At the Education Department, Michelle Rhee would be the first name on most lists. Her non-nonsense approach to school reform and scars from battles with the teachers’ unions would hold her in good stead.
Every president has latitude in elevating lesser positions to cabinet-level rank, thereby signaling seriousness about an issue and making way for another post for heavy hitter. Since Romney has promised to get tough on China, it is entirely possible he’d upgrade the U.S. Trade Representative and give it to a respected figure.
And finally, a Romney administration might be the ideal one to rethink the role of White House press secretary. Maybe a pretty or handsome face spouting talking points for the cameras really isn’t the ideal way to convey serious policy matters to the media. Given the plethora of policy initiatives, perhaps the ideal person would be someone with policy chops to talk seriously about what the White House is trying to accomplish. It also makes sense to have the national security spokesman briefing regularly on all defense and foreign policy matters. (If Jay Carney isn’t the best advertisement for taking matters of war and peace out of the hands of a White House flack with low credibility, I don’t know who would be.) Everyone in in D.C. talks a good game about wanting more serious coverage and less “gotcha” TV moments. If they are serious, one way to change that is to change the nature of the press secretary job. Frankly, having an all-purpose press secretary talking to a room full of political reporters is just asking for policy debates to be trivialized.
At the onset of a new administration, it is often said personnel determines policy. That’s true. But priorities, goals, and political objectives should set the personnel. Instead of simply slotting the biggest names into high profile jobs, it is critical to think about what the president wants to accomplish, both substantively and politically.