Presidents often need new energy and talent to refurbish their second terms. George W. Bush opted for such a shake-up in 2006 and it arguably saved his presidency. Barack Obama is now facing a similar moment, and there are signs he’s looking to make some personnel changes after the November congressional elections.
The benefits that can come from new blood can be seen in Bush’s second term. In 2006, the Iraq War was going badly; the country was bitterly divided; policy decisions were not always being implemented. Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew Card, told the president he needed someone new running the White House.
Bush recruited Josh Bolten as chief of staff for his last two-and-a-half years, and it proved an inspired choice. Out went Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, John Snow at Treasury and Porter Goss at the CIA. In came Gates, Henry Paulson and Michael Hayden — three of Bush’s best Cabinet appointments.
Ignatius missed one political angle, and for that we need to go back to just after the 2006 election.
The GOP lost, as I’m sure you remember, and lost big. Bush got the message, finally fired Don Rumsfeld and announced the Iraq Surge. But the rank & file Republicans on Capitol Hill were absolutely furious — why didn’t he do these things before the election, when they might have done the GOP some political good? Instead, Bush waited until after the November Massacre, and the party has yet to fully recover these eight years later.
Obama is in a similar fix. If he makes big moves now, it looks like panic. If the Democrats get shellacked next month, Obama wins himself no friends. (Although unlike most presidents, having friends on Capitol Hill was never one of Obama’s priorities.) The time to move was last spring; anything else looks reactionary and weak, even if the personal changes do end up leading to better policies and a more smoothly-functioning White House.
That said, I don’t at this late date expect to see much improvement in this Administration, even if the President does announce big personnel changes for his last two years — unless one of those changes involves sending Valerie Jarrett back to Chicago on a full-time and permanent basis.