Christine Todd Whitman, the former New Jersey governor who was President Bush's first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, is violating the omerta of Bush alumni with a memoir that touts the importance of moderates to the future of the Republican Party and flays Bush and his team for ignoring the country's middle. Whitman charges on Page 3 that Bush's three-percentage-point margin in the popular vote is the lowest of any incumbent president ever to win reelection.
"The numbers show that while the president certainly did energize his political base, the red state/blue state map changed barely at all -- suggesting that he had missed an opportunity to significantly broaden his support in the most populous areas of the country," Whitman writes. "The Karl Rove strategy to focus so rigorously on the narrow conservative base won the day, but we must ask at what price to governing and at what risk to the future of the party."
Whitman was a bit of a misfit in the Bush Cabinet, coming in as a supporter of abortion rights and taking a job that is not a quick route to popularity in a GOP administration. She left in June 2003, clearly unhappy.
The book gives a flavor of how different the White House mind-set was before Sept. 11, 2001. Whitman writes that after meeting with the president-elect at a hotel suite in Washington, she had no doubt that Bush "wanted a strong environmental record to be part of both his agenda and his legacy."
"The belief was reinforced when Karl Rove told me after that meeting that I would be one of just three cabinet officers who would help determine whether the president would be reelected," she writes. "I took Rove to mean that the work I would do in building a strong record on the environment would help the president build on his base by attracting moderate swing voters. As it turned out, I don't seem to have understood Karl correctly." Whitman does not say exactly what she meant, but she goes on to write about her many scars and frustrations in dealing with what she calls the "antiregulatory lobbyists and extreme antigovernment ideologues" that she suggests hold too much sway over the party.
The two-week tour for "It's My Party Too: The Battle for the Heart of the GOP and the Future of America," to be published Jan. 31, takes her to the District as well as to New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois and California -- not a red state in the bunch.
Have Tricks, Will Travel
Viktor Yushchenko's victory in the presidential election in Ukraine -- following one effort to stop him by vote fraud, and another through poisoning -- is being hailed as a triumph of idealism and popular will. But don't think that even a fledgling democracy such as Ukraine is free of those crafty political consultants who lurk behind the scenes in elections in the United States.
In fact, one of those stirring the pot in Ukraine was one of the craftiest and most controversial consultants ever: former Bill Clinton svengali turned anti-Clinton pundit Dick Morris.
Morris's involvement in Yushchenko's campaign even bore several signatures of the tactics that he made famous when he was working by Clinton's side in the 1996 reelection campaign: clandestine meetings, an emphasis on polls and even an attempt at "triangulation," which is the consultant's fancy word for how politicians should capture the political center.
In an interview, Morris said an acquaintance from a previous overseas campaign put him in touch with Yushchenko's campaign manager. Morris did not actually go to Ukraine. Because of security concerns, he said, his meetings with campaign officials took place in an East European capital he declined to name.
The consultant, who when working for Clinton was so poll-driven that he took surveys about where the president should vacation, said his main contribution to this campaign was to urge exit polling on election day. By immediately publicizing the results, Yushchenko's campaign would draw supporters into the streets to celebrate -- thus presenting Ukrainian authorities with an angry mob if they tried to tamper with the vote.
Yushchenko, he said, rejected his proposed triangulation, which was to try to unite Ukrainian nationalists and the country's Russian-speaking minority with a platform pledging bilingualism for official government documents and proceedings.
White House Shuffle
Steve Schmidt, the bulldog of the Bush-Cheney campaign who spent hours every day spinning reporters on John F. Kerry's plane, is moving into Vice President Cheney's operation after the inauguration with broad responsibilities that are being compared to those of Mary Matalin when she was the vice president's counselor. Schmidt, now communications director of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, bonded with Cheney during debate preparation. White House officials call his appointment a sign of Cheney's planned aggressiveness heading into the 2006 elections.
Schmidt's appointment is part of a reshuffling of the White House communications operation as Bush gears up to sell major initiatives to a skeptical Congress and public. In a series of changes likely to be announced this week, communications director Dan Bartlett and chief speechwriter Michael Gerson will be given loftier titles and wider responsibilities. Bartlett will be succeeded by Nicolle Devenish, who was communications director for the Bush-Cheney campaign and formerly headed the White House Office of Media Affairs, which serves regional and specialty organizations.
Bartlett is likely to become counselor, which was Karen Hughes's title before she returned to Texas in 2002. Like her, he will be charged with taking a broader perspective and will oversee the 50-plus people who work in the communications, press, speechwriting and media affairs offices. Devenish will be his principal deputy. Gerson will be succeeded by a chief speechwriter who is being hired from outside, officials said. Gerson suffered a mild heart attack in mid-December but is recovering well and is working on the State of the Union address from home. Bush granted him the broader portfolio after he indicated he was considering leaving the White House.