The "kitchen cabinet," whose members financed Ronald Reagan's long road to the White House and want to continue advising him now that he is there, has been given an eviction notice in the latest battle over who will pick the administration's top officials.
After weeks of conflicting legal opinions between him and the kitchen cabinet, presidential counselor Edwin Meese III issued this decree last week: Out! The law is clear; this privately funded band of private citizens can no longer occupy government quarters; the modest offices in the Executive Office Building next door to the White House must be vacated.
"Getting us out of the White House is not the same as getting us out of town," a defiant kitchen cabineteer told us. But removal from the president's proximity will not help the millionaire kitchen cabinet conservatives promote Reaganite loyalists for high office.
Even before Meese delivered his eviction notice, that effort had been flagging. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger last week told a conservative personnel aide: I will not accept any more recommendations from the White House, so don't bother sending them. Weinberger and other officials who place pragmatism and administrative competence above loyalty and ideology were advancing on all fronts, causing this question to be repeated: Can Reaganite policy be maintained by non-Reaganite officials?
In the heady days following his election, Ronnie Reagan's old California kitchen cabinet cronies thought they were picking the entire officials Cabinet. Their comeuppance came early when Meese helped to thwart the nomination of their East Coast colleague, William Simon, to be secretary of the Treasury.
By the time they came East after the inauguration, kitchen cabineteers had switched from offense to defense. They were attempting to veto non-Reaganites regularly selected for high government posts by the White House personnel office, headed by Meese's close friend E. Pendleton James.
Longtime Reagan aide Lyn Nofziger, who was performing much the same function as White House political aide, provided the kitchen cabinet office space adjoining his own. "You can't imagine," one Reagan aide told us, "how much trouble Lyn got himself into doing that. This was not a popular decision with the White House staff."
"The kitchen cabinet has been treated shabbily, disgracefully," said another insider. Reagan's oldest supporters were denied the convenience of a regular White House pass (except for southern California tycoon William Wilson, who got his by virtue of being the president's envoy to the Vatican). They were often treated with condescension.
Meese and his second-in-command, Mike Deaver, marshaled legal opinions holding that the kitchen cabinet was an illegal occupant of government property. Kitchen cabineteer Joseph Coors, the Golden, Colo., brewer who long has dreamed of a Reagan presidency, produced conflicting legal opinions. He lost, and now Reagan's oldest buddies must move, perhaps to Republican National Headquarters on Capitol Hill.
The loss of proximity will further reduce kitchen cabinet successes (such as appointment of Donald Devine to run the Office of Personnel Management over the objections of Meese and James). What's more, it coincides with a serious setback for James' deputy, Willa Johnson, placed there by conservatives to safeguard ideological purity in national security posts.
Weinberger, a Reagan intimate and veteran bureaucratic infighter, has resisted all such tests for his lieutenants. In a personal confrontation with Johnson last week, he told her to stop sending resumes of "Reaganauts" for the Defense Department because he would pay no attention to them. She promptly resigned and returned to her old job at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think task (but later was talked into returning).
One reason for Johnson's pique was the fact that San Francisco millionaire financier William Draper, who has been serving in James' personnel office, was present but said nothing in her defense during the confrontation with Weinberger. Johnson's aggravation with heightened by her irritation that Draper, who backed George Bush for the 1980 presidential nomination, would soon be named president of the Export-Import Bank, a job the kitchen cabinet had slated for ardent Reaganite Washington banker William Middendorf.
Kitchen cabinet plans to battle for Middendorf vanished March 12 when the president himself asked Middendorf to give up his Ex-Im Bank ambitions to serve as ambassador to the Organization of American States. He had no choice but to agree.
Reagan's call suggests the battle for ideological purity is lost. It is not imaginable for the kitchen cabinet to be evicted, Cappy Weinberger to refuse to consider political qualifications in filling defense posts or Bush backers to gain preference over Reagan backers for prestigious jobs if Ronald Reagan opposed it. If his political revolution is set back by acts of the non-Reaganites given command posts, the blame will be his alone.