Where does GOP presidential front-runner George W. Bush go to get the policy ideas he hopes will propel him to the Republican nomination and eventually to the White House? Increasingly, he is taking advice and advisers from an 80-year-old California think tank that is beloved by conservatives but which even some liberal intellectuals rank among the best in the country.
The Hoover Institution, whose scholars include the usual star academics plus a bevy of former officials from the Nixon, Reagan and Bush administrations, has provided the Texas governor with his chief foreign policy adviser, at least three of his domestic policy advisers and five of the members of his economics team.
It looks like a win-win arrangement for Bush and the Palo Alto institution, which wants to raise a profile that is bigger in think-tank circles than in the current Washington policymaking mix.
Bush's economics team gets battle-tested GOP advisers such as former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, former Bush administration chief economist Michael J. Boskin and economist John B. Taylor, who advised former Sen. Robert J. Dole in his 1996 presidential campaign. The other two are John Cogan, a budget official in the Reagan and Bush administrations, and Martin Anderson, a policy adviser in the Nixon and Reagan administrations.
Advisers like these can lend Bush credibility with the GOP's core believers while also helping to fashion policies that steer him toward the crucial middle ground of the tax and budget debate, where, if he becomes the nominee, he could contend with the Democratic candidate for swing voters.
Hoover, meanwhile, gets the cachet that comes from advising the GOP's leading presidential candidate, which helps impress potential givers. Although Hoover is enormously wealthy by think-tank standards (its endowment currently stands at about a quarter of a billion dollars), it is raising money aggressively as part of a campaign to expand its work and its influence.
"The typical donor is very interested to know that we are making a difference," said John Raisian, Hoover's director. "It's helpful to be invited to participate at this level."
Founded in 1919 by wealthy ex-businessman (and later president) Herbert Hoover, the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace was originally intended to investigate the causes and consequences of World War I. Over the years it evolved from a foreign-policy-centered library and archive into a broad-gauge think tank. In 1992, the Economist magazine named it as the best of 23 top think tanks around the world, calling it "hard to match for sheer intellectual firepower."
Hoover also is part of Stanford University, which gives the think tank an academic sheen that many others lack.
Hoover has a habit of signing up high-profile Republicans after they leave government; its latest catch is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). But the quality of Hoover's economists draws praise from more liberal counterparts.
"There are conservatives and liberals who take positions because they fit within an overall scheme, and there are those who take positions because it's where their analysis and their values lead them. [At Hoover], their analysis is leading them," said Henry Aaron, a senior fellow at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution. "I may not agree with them on policy, [but] they're excellent economists."
Bush linked up with Hoover during an April 1998 fund-raising swing through California. Boskin and others arranged an informal session with several Hoover scholars at the campus home of Shultz, where they and the governor discussed issues for two or three hours.
"These people were immensely impressed with him, how quick he was to pick stuff up," Boskin said. "His instincts were all very good, very much market-oriented; that created a very, very favorable impression." Said former Reagan aide Anderson, "We all kind of looked at each other and said, `Hey, this guy's really good.' "
The Hoover Factor
Hoover Institution members figure prominently among George W. Bush's economic policy advisers:
George P. Shultz
secretary of state in the Reagan administration
Nixon and Reagan policy adviser
Michael J. Boskin
Bush administration chief economist
John B. Taylor
economist; Dole presidential campaign adviser
Reagan and Bush budget official