They have pulled the wagons into a circle at the White House in the name of leadership, and all that is certain is that the Georgian insiders are safe - and all the rest are just Indians.
The message behind yesterday's Cabinet firings is get along or get out. Get along with Hamilton Jordan, Jody Powell and Frank Moore, because they are staying, or get out of the Cabinet.
President Carter, whose autobiography was called "Why Not The Best?", has opted to stress personal loyalty and political necessity.
Joseph A. Califano Jr. and W. Michael Blumenthal fell victim to the fact that they made enemies among the members of the senior staff at the White House.
So they were fired primarily for that, not questions of talent or competence. Carter conceded this when, according to Califano, he told him at a White House meeting Wednesday that on the one hand he was the best health, education and welfare secretary in history, and on the other that he was fired.
The Carter White House staff will run the Carter government. The president made it perfectly clear that Califano was fired because he could not get along with Jordan, Powell or Moore. And yesterday another Cabinet member, Transportation Secretary Brock Adams, made it perfectly clear that that he would rather mutiny than accept edicts from Jordan.
In a bizarre turn of the screw, Adams put out a statement saying that Carter had asked him to stay but that he was not sure he wanted to, because of matters including his future access to the president. His firing now seems probable.
Back at the White House, meanwhile, Hamilton Jordan, sensing disquietude, assembled the senior staff members who were once his peers and laid down the law: No one on the White House staff shall utter any criticisms to outsiders of the events of this week, and anyone who does will be summarily fired, he said, according to staff sources.
Yesterday's Cabinet Firings were Carter's way of getting control of his government for today and his politics for 1980. Carter said, according to Califano, that he needed to make the changes in order to get his Cabinet realigned for his 1980 election campaign. And Califano was considered a political liability in the tobacco regions of the South because of his antismoking campaign, and throughout the South because of his desegregation policies.
What is happening now is Carter's way of making good his promise of leadership in his televised Sunday.
"I will act," he said, and he has. He crowned a new chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan. He let his aides put out the word that the only Geogian who has long been a lightning rod for criticism, congressional liaison chief Frank Moore, will be safe in his job. He asked for the mass resignations of his Cabinet and senior staff members. He issued a job evaluation form designed to shake up his sub-cabinet and justify firings there. And then he fired the first two from his Cabinet since he came into office, and there is more to come.
All of this was designed to show the country he is in command and to rally the nation behind him. What it has done so far is turn the initial praise of his Sunday speech into rounds of condemnation being fired up Pennsylvania Avenue from Capitol Hill.
There has, so far, been one other result from this first week or new leadership from the Carter presidency. It is that many of those on the White House staff, those below the ranks of the inner circle of Georgians who are deeply loyal to Carter, have been taken on a roller coaster of emotions.
They were lifted to new heights of hope by Carter's Sunday speech, only to plunge to new depths of frustration and gloom over the leadership overkill of the mass resignations, the job evaluation form, and now the random firings that are being handed out in daily doses.
"It's all so sad," said one mid-level White House assistant. "That little boost we had from his speech Sunday is all dead now...I'm afraid now what we're seeing is 2 1/2 years of frustration, all pouring out at once. Two-and-a-half years of getting kicked from behind by official Washington, and even by people in the departments.
"It's going to kill whatever last bit of morale is left in this place."
Another mid-level official strove to find solace in the way this week's events look in the future.
"The key is whether, several weeks from now, Jimmy Carter will have a more effective administration," he said. "That job questionaire may not have been the greatest. The mass resignations may not have been the best way to handle it. But don't lose sight of the forest for the trees.
"Jimmy Carter was in a bad situation, and people were telling him at Camp David he had to make tough decisions, and he did. So maybe in the long run it will come down to a difference in style or approach," he said.
Carter is not the only president to have asked the resignations of his Cabinet and White House senior staff just so he could fire a few of them, and there are those in the Carter White House who shudder at comparisons of the last man who did.
Richard Nixon, who had his chief of staff, H. R. (Bob) Haldeman, demand such resignations on the day after Nixon won reelection, wrote with regret of the move in his memoirs.
"I see this now as a mistake," he wrote in his book, "RN." "I did not take into account the chilling effect this action would have on the morale of people..."