Bush makes changes ... or does he?


Unless there is a dramatic shift in the next few weeks, the changes so far in the Bush White House are largely cosmetic. Aides and chairs are being moved around, but there is no indication a stubborn president is ready to make any real policy changes at home or abroad.

Josh Bolten will be a more aggressive chief of staff than Andrew Card, but he brings in a steadfast loyalty to Bush and little else. Bolten is unlikely to go to the president and tell him he's wrong or argue with him. Bolten wants to energize the White House, but can he?

Bringing in Tony Snow as press spokesman brings a new and more experienced face to the podium. But Snow must be aware that he is on a short leash, just as poor Scott McClellan was throughout his rough days at the office.

The shifting of duties for Karl Rove hardly scratches the surface. Does anyone really think Rove has devoted much of his time to policy when politics—the down-and-dirty variety—is his reason for being in Washington? Politics has always been his game, in Austin and in D.C.

More than anyone else on Bush's team, Rove has to know the outlook for the off-year elections in November is dreary. History is against Bush and the GOP, even allowing for the gerrymandering both parties have done to secure hundreds of safe seats in the 435-member House. The in party at the White House customarily loses seats in a second term, and the rule will most likely hold in 2006.

The question is whether concern over the lingering war in Iraq and the president's low ratings in the polls will overcome local issues, the usual deciding factor in off-year voting.

Moreover, Bush is leading from weakness in shuffling his team. The Republicans don't have much bench strength to replace the existing lineup.

Compare Bush's position with Ronald Reagan's second term when the Iran-contra scandal was dragging down the Gipper's numbers. Reagan brought in Howard H. Baker Jr., the much-respected former majority leader from Tennessee, to run the White House. Baker, a moderate, had friends on both sides of the aisle from his days in the Senate and provided a refreshing change.

For the communications chief, Baker had the answer, too. Tom Griscom, his capable and friendly press secretary in the Senate, came in to restore some good feeling in the press. Griscom was a reliable team player who knew how to work with the media. He always returned telephone calls from the small newspapers as well as the so-called heavy hitters.

Baker is not available, and Griscom is the editor of a paper in Chattanooga.

The current makeover is generating some news stories and stirring speculation in the media about more changes to come. But will there be any noticeable difference other than new faces?

Don't bet on it.