Bush's Big Five, Plus Two

By , ; Godfrey Sperling Jr. is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist.

PRESIDENT Bush is such a driving force in his own administration that he's been obscuring those around him. Yet in the change from Reagan detachment to Bush involvement the president's ``heavy hitters'' are beginning to emerge. Here are George Bush's ``Big Five:'' Secretary of State James Baker, Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, Director of the Office of Management and Budget Richard Darman, and Chief of Staff John Sununu.

And here are the President's ``Rising Stars'': HUD Secretary Jack Kemp and Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater.

This time during the Reagan administration, the ``troika'' of James Baker, Mike Deaver, and Ed Meese were Ronald Reagan's No. 1 people. Mr. Reagan's detached style gave those close to him tremendous clout.

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Mr. Sununu has the influence stemming from frequent and ready access to Mr. Bush, and he plays a vital role in making this administration work. But he doesn't - and couldn't if he wanted to - flex his muscles and shape the administration's agenda the way members of that Reagan ``troika'' did. Nor does Sununu possess their high visibility.

Baker, as a former chief of staff and treasury secretary is someone that Bush turns to for counsel on a wide array of subjects - domestic as well as foreign. And he does. In ``all-around'' capacity, Baker has the most clout - Bush's No. 1.

Defense Secretary Cheney is No. 2. This clout goes with the job, in part. But Mr. Cheney is another official who has previously served with Bush. And Bush particularly values Cheney's congressional experience and his advice on how best to deal with Congress.

The president's preoccupation with global events and foreign policy during these months in office has caused him to lean heavily on his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft. Indeed, General Scowcroft is considered by many Washingtonians to be the ``long head'' among the president's advisors, a man of extremely good judgment. Evidently, the president thinks so, too. So, at this point anyway and until domestic matters grab Bush's full attention, Scowcroft is Bush's No. 3.

With the presidential focus overseas, the official who has done the most to win points for Bush on the domestic front is his OMB director Mr. Darman. Darman's strategy has kept the Democrats in Congress on the defensive - willing to compromise on the budget and, it now would seem, willing to accept Bush's sole tax initiative, a cut in capital gains.

For turning Democrats into pussycats, Darman earns a No. 4 spot. Perhaps, as time goes on, Nicholas Brady will replace Darman as the top economics person. Mr. Brady is well positioned. But in the early months, Darman has overshadowed him.

So it is that we come to Sununu who possesses immense influence - but more administrative than substantive. He turned out to have a light touch in dealing with officials and the media after all. Further, he and the president have become very good friends. He's doing the job Bush wanted him to do. With presidential satisfaction goes a lot of clout. Sununu is No. 5. And he may be moving up.

Next to the president no one is receiving more media acclaim than Mr. Kemp, HUD secretary. No one is the recipient of more presidential gratitude.

Kemp, by moving strongly to clean up the mess in HUD, is providing Bush with needed damage control. If Kemp can prevent this Reagan scandal from rubbing off onto Bush, he will save Bush's bacon.

Some observers thought Kemp would be buried in HUD. Fireman Kemp is not only proving them wrong, but improving his prospects of running for president in '96.

Finally, Marlin Fitzwater. He's become one of the most popular (among the media) presidential press secretaries of all time. Reporters like his low-key way and his wry humor. He is well informed. And he levels with the press.

Other ``stars'' may be on the ascent, too. Drug czar William Bennett, for example, will undoubtedly shine if he can move toward fulfilling Bush's inaugural promise to win the war on drugs.

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