A supporting cast in the spotlight
Bush's kitchen cabinet includes the old guard from California as well as a new clique from Texas.
PHILADELPHIA — When George W. Bush arrives in Philadelphia on Thursday and finally seizes the Republican Party for his own, the moment will mark the rise of a new generation of his family - and the emergence of members of a new generation of GOP strategists and advisors.
Not since Ronald Reagan has a presidential candidate depended so heavily on a personal brain trust. Some of the Bush team are tried-and-true veterans, such as vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney. But many were, in essence, top minor leaguers in previous GOP administrations. Today they're arriving at the big show - untested in the majors, and hungry for the power a White House post conveys.
If their policy positions are any guide, a George W. Bush administration would be internationalist and pro-free trade, as was that of his father. Its domestic actions, however, might be different from those of the George Herbert Walker Bush years - more conservative and more radical at the same time.
Throughout his political career, Bush the younger has been dogged by criticism that he is the creation of his own kitchen cabinet. For their part, his advisors stress that Bush is not a suit steered by those in the background. But neither is he a policy wonk who scribbles up 12-point plans on his own. "This is not a guy who designed his own campaign logo," says chief political advisor Karl Rove.
Mr. Rove is himself the exemplar of one of the Bush kitchen-cabinet main factions - the Austin mafia. A close circle of Texas friends and politicos are the main source of Bush's energy and inspiration.
Rove is a mild-faced man who looks more like an accountant than Machiavelli. The political consultant famously met Bush over 25 years ago, when George the father, then head of the Republican National Committee, summoned a low-ranking aide (Rove) to hand his son the keys to the family car.
Critics often charge that Rove is now attempting to hand Bush the keys to the Oval Office without the governor having to do much work on his own. Rove denies this. He is not the source of the catchphrase "compassionate conservative," he says, even though he urged Bush to read the works of such new conservative thinkers as Marvin Olasky, a proponent of the importance of private charity as opposed to the safety net of the state.
Nor was "compassionate conservative" lifted from the language of President Bush, according to Rove. "Where did it come from? The answer is 20 different sources," he says.
A Colorado native and son of a geologist, Rove moved to Texas in 1977 to help shepherd what he foresaw as the emergence of GOP power in the state. He developed a thriving political consulting practice that specialized in the techniques of direct mail. When George W. Bush first started thinking about running for governor, it seemed natural that he talk through the process with one of the state's top strategists.
Rove is a good match for Bush, say analysts, because his strengths are energy and focus - two areas where the governor has needed help in the past. "Karl is sort of a carburetor in a truck," says Sam Kinch, an Austin-based political consultant. "He puts the spark and the fuel in place, and lets Bush turn the key to make the engine run."
But Rove does not necessarily give Bush the stability and unvarnished advice of a close personal friend. That role falls to Don Evans, among others.
The Bush-Evans connection has deep roots. Both grew up in the oil patch town of Midland, Texas. Their friendship deepened in 1985, when Mr. Evans - by then a successful local businessman - invited Bush to join a men's Bible study group. Today he is one of Bush's chief fundraisers and someone who can be relied upon to tell Bush how he is really doing. Evans describes his friend as someone who has attracted quality advisers not so much due to his famous name as to his sunny personality. "He has always had an ability to attract good people," says Evans.
Karen Hughes is the third person in the "Texas Triumvirate." A former political reporter for KXAS TV in Dallas, Ms. Hughes is Bush's longtime spokesperson. He reportedly told her that if she did not join his presidential campaign, he was not going to run. Her main job: damage control for Bushisms. "When Bush is in a public setting, and says something that's a little bit off, Karen knows how reporters are going to read it," says Bill Cryer, who was press secretary for Ann Richards, Bush's first gubernatorial opponent.
Texas is not the source of much of Bush's policy thinking, however. For that, he has turned somewhere else: California.
Two years ago Bush was in California fundraising. He stopped by the home of George Shultz, secretary of state in the Reagan administration and a longtime GOP wiseman, and now a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Gathered there were Hoover scholars who have since become the core of Bush's wonk team, including Condoleezza Rice, a Bush-era National Security staffer, and economist Martin Anderson.
"We just sat and talked, mainly about the International Monetary Fund," says Mr. Anderson, now a domestic policy advisor for the campaign. "When that meeting was over, we walked out and uniformly said, ' "This guy is terrific.' "
Shortly thereafter Gov. Bush began inviting Hoover scholars down to Austin for day-long wonkfests. Through them, other scholars, such as the conservative sociologist and law enforcement expert James Q. Wilson, became involved.
On foreign policy the group is in the internationalist, free-trade Republican mainstream - Ms. Rice, a likely NSC head in any Bush administration, ran Russian affairs at the NSC for the Texas governor's father.
When it comes to domestic policy, however, the brain trust has different ideas. Marvin Olasky, the man Rove recommended to Bush and author of "The Tragedy of American Compassion," has urged the governor to allow faith-based groups to do more in getting people off of public assistance.
Mr. Olasky remembers that in 1995, the Texas state Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse was about to cancel the license of a faith-based group that helped teens handle drug addiction. Olasky sent Bush a letter, not knowing whether he would get a reply. "Bush sided with these folks and made sure they were not shut down," says Olasky. "Bush very quickly said this stuff can work."
*Gail Russell Chaddock and Scott Baldauf contributed to this report.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society