President Bush's second term is already off to a promising start: Alberto Gonazales is a solid pick to replace outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft, and he's keeping his first and only White House chief of staff, Andrew Card.
With only some exaggeration, the chief-of-staff post has been described as the second-most powerful job in Washington. It may be the most powerful job most people have never heard of.
The chief of staff manages the several thousand employees of the Executive Office of the President, approves and enforces the president's schedule, serves as gatekeeper for people demanding the president's time, and controls the flow of paper through the Oval Office. And he also does whatever else the president wants him to.
Good chiefs of staff tend to be self-effacing, and although Card is always close to the president, he is careful to stay on the periphery of the limelight. It is doubtful that many viewers could identify the official who interrupted the president's reading to a grade-school class to inform him of airliners hitting the World Trade Center.
The fact that the Bush White House ran so smoothly during the first term is largely attributable to Card, 57, who, besides having the necessary credential of being simpatico with his boss, has served as deputy chief of staff to Bush senior and as a second-level White House staffer for President Ronald Reagan.
Second terms are notoriously difficult in the history of the American presidency. And one reason is turnover. At the end of a first term, many senior officials are anxious for new challenges, weary of the hours, tired of Washington or hoping to make big money in the private sector. The more junior officials are anxious to move up to bigger jobs.
Given the killer hours — Card is at the White House from 5:30 a.m. until the president heads up to the family quarters at night — no one blames a chief of staff for stepping down at a suitable opportunity. But it has a cost.
Suddenly, after the inauguration, the president is there but the people he depended on the last four years are not. In Reagan's second term, his trusted top aide, James Baker, moved to Treasury to be replaced by Donald Regan, with whom Reagan and especially the first lady were never comfortable. It had an adverse affect on Reagan's presidency.
Card is on track to set a record for longevity in the job, surpassing Dwight Eisenhower's top aide, Sherman Adams, who was the first to hold the actual title of chief of staff. And Card's continuing presence should help Bush beat the second-term jinx.
And as for Card, there are rewards down the road. Two of President Gerald Ford's former chiefs of staff are Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.