In leadership style, a study in contrasts
Affable team player versus brash rebel: GOP front-runners differ in
WASHINGTON — One is a personable, go-along-get-along guy, with a reputation for working well with others. He knows how to cut deals, but at times will stand firm and let legislation fall by the wayside.
The other is known for his sense of honor - and a prickly personality mixed with maverick views that often put him at odds with his own party. On his biggest causes, he has famously failed.
They are the top contenders for the Republican presidential nomination - Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain - and in terms of style, they are like bookends.
In an administration led by either man, analysts expect somewhat similar politics - mainstream conservative - but very different types of leadership.
"Bush is a much more orderly, planful fellow than McCain," says Bruce Buchanan, a political analyst at the University of Texas at Austin. "McCain wings it a lot."
Senator McCain comes to the presidential contest with many more years as a politician under his belt, first in the House of Representatives (four years), then in the Senate (14 years), and he is comfortable talking issues.
Mr. Bush's career in elective office spans only his five years as Texas governor, though he did log a few years in Washington behind the scenes when his father was president.
Still, Bush himself acknowledges he's still on the learning curve of national issues.
These differing comfort levels have translated into very different public-relations styles. McCain is comfortable on the debate stage, while Bush has gained confidence after his early mediocre performances (and before that, nonappearances that hurt him in polls).
McCain will hang out in the back of his campaign bus with journalists from dawn till dusk, rarely going "off the record," discoursing at length on subjects ranging from military hardware to rap music. His aides meander in and out casually. As president, McCain has promised weekly press conferences.
Bush also seems to enjoy repartee with the Fourth Estate, but his answers are much terser - and his handlers, particularly communications director Karen Hughes, stick close by his side.
A winning public style is not trivial for a president. Rather, it is a key to success, along with skilled agenda-setting and coalition-building, says Henry Kenski, an expert on political communications at the University of Arizona at Tucson.
He gives McCain the edge on image-building, but a slight edge to Bush on agenda, because he has a track record as Texas's chief executive. Bush set out to accomplish certain goals, and achieved most.
On coalition-building, observers give a larger edge to Bush, who has earned the respect of Texas state legislators for his knowledge of issues he cares about and his willingness to cut deals.
"On every issue I've dealt with him on - such as electricity deregulation - he's been knowledgeable, detailed, and conversant," says state Rep. Steven Wolens, a Democrat and chairman of the Texas House Committee on State Affairs. "He takes his point of view and argues it. He doesn't like to be bested, but he likes the verbal exchange. He's very open-minded, not so much he'd make a 180-degree turn on something, but he can moved by logic, facts, reason, persuasion."
Coalition-building skills could be especially important for the next president, since the next Congress is expected to be closely divided - whichever party wins control.
A McCain administration would be marked by a clear sense of authority, reflecting the senator's years as a Navy man, say colleagues and aides.
"He would be chief of staff," says Bob Packwood, a former Democratic senator from Oregon, speaking at a forum on how McCain would govern at the American Enterprise Institute. "Anybody who is in his Cabinet will understand who is in control."
Mr. Packwood dismisses jokes about how McCain would do fine building coalitions with Democrats - but have a hard time dealing with fellow Republicans.
"You'd be amazed how the Republicans in the Congress will come to appreciate John McCain as president," says Packwood. "They will have an entirely different view of him."
Aides to McCain argue that his strong, unorthodox-for-a-Republican views on issues such as campaign finance and big tobacco, have clouded the fact that, as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, he moved a lot of legislation through the Senate.
They also promise that a McCain administration would be orderly, and not given to bouts of baby boomer confessionalism that have marked the Clinton years.
"He won't 'feel your pain,' " a former aide comments wryly.
McCain has been less forthcoming than Bush about the focus of his administration. Until recently, McCain has used his support for campaign-finance overhaul as his main rhetorical device in campaign speeches - implying that all roads lead to the influence of special-interest money, which must be weaned away from the system.
The recent flap over letters he wrote on behalf of a campaign contributor have tarnished his crusading reformer image a bit.
Meanwhile, McCain has begun to broaden his agenda, unveiling policy positions on issues such as taxes and Social Security.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society