Fred Barnes on a third Bush term

And no, he’s not talking about an actual third term ;) Barnes writes:

It’s time for President Bush to think about a third term. No, he doesn’t need to overturn the Constitution. He can start the equivalent of his third term now, by filling his presidential staff and cabinet with new faces–or old faces in new positions–and by concentrating on new or forgotten initiatives. The goal: rejuvenation of his presidency by shocking the media and political community with a sweeping overhaul of his administration. The impact would be enormous because it’s exactly what his foes have been demanding and exactly what he is not expected to do. And it would give him a chance to escape the political doldrums that may otherwise doom his presidency through its final 34 months.

Only a few months ago, it appeared the Bush administration didn’t need emergency resuscitation. True, Mr. Bush had suffered a year of serious troubles–failure of Social Security reform, Katrina, Harriet Miers, Iraq–following his second inauguration. Yet he emerged bruised but politically alive. He’d even won the confirmation of two conservative Supreme Court justices.

Then he was belted with a new round of reversals. His State of the Union address was uninspiring, the Dubai ports deal had to be nixed, and his proposed spending cuts were going nowhere. This time the fallout was worse for Mr. Bush. Republican unity, so important to his past success, dissolved as congressional Republicans began criticizing the White House. And Iraq was again a political problem. Even several top Bush aides now suspect an infusion of fresh talent could liven up the administration.

A broad transformation, playing on the media’s overreaction whenever surprised, would do more. Reporters would be forced to write stories about new officials, cover confirmation hearings, show up at press conferences they might have ignored, assess new policies, and–this is most important–take a fresh look at the president. It would be like the beginning of a new presidential term. Sure, the press and politicians would be cynical about Mr. Bush’s bold moves, especially since he wouldn’t be uprooting any policy or hiring Bush critics. In truth, there would be a large element of smoke and mirrors in his actions. The trade-off is that Mr. Bush might revitalize his presidency.

A sweeping overhaul on a smaller scale has worked before. In one swoop in 1975, President Ford replaced Defense Secretary James Schlesinger with Donald Rumsfeld, made Dick Cheney chief of staff, appointed George H.W. Bush as CIA director in place of William Colby, and stripped Secretary of State Henry Kissinger of his second post as national security adviser, installing Brent Scowcroft. These surprising and dramatic steps strengthened a weak Ford presidency. President Carter tried something similar in 1979 when his presidency was at a low point. But the overhaul was handled clumsily. Mr. Carter appeared to act arbitrarily and his presidency never recovered.

Mr. Bush’s first task must be to jettison his admirable but unrealistic sense of loyalty. Unlike other presidents, he reciprocates the loyalty of his aides. But for the good of his presidency, he must let some of them go, regardless of whether they deserve firing.


The president’s most spectacular move would be to anoint a presidential successor. This would require Vice President Cheney to resign. His replacement? Condoleezza Rice, whom Mr. Bush regards highly. Her replacement? Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, whose Bush-like views on Iraq and the war on terror have made him a pariah in the Democratic caucus.

Mr. Cheney would probably be happy to step down and return to Wyoming. But it would make more sense for him to move to the Pentagon to replace Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary, a job Mr. Cheney held during the elder Bush’s administration. The Senate confirmation hearing for Mr. Cheney alone would produce political fireworks and attract incredible attention. At Treasury, Mr. Bush has a perfect replacement for John Snow, someone he already knows. That’s Glenn Hubbard, former chairman of Mr. Bush’s council of economic advisers and currently dean of Columbia’s business school. He is in sync with Mr. Bush ideologically and has the added value of being respected on Wall Street.

He’s definitely got an imagination. I do agree an administration overhaul would most definitely shake things up – but asking Cheney to step down? I don’t see that in the cards. Nor am I sure it should be. As Matt Margolis posted yesterday, VP Cheney is committed to serving a full second term so Barnes is likely SOL on that suggestion.

(Hat tip: Varifrank)

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