Donald Rumsfeld is not exactly the sort of man a Georgetown hostess would describe as "cozy." While he's charming when he wants to be, the former Princeton football and wrestling captain and Navy pilot has been known through his long career as a tough infighter. He is blunt and sometimes cutting in private, stern and forceful in public. But to George W. Bush, Rumsfeld, his nominee for secretary of Defense, is as comforting as the goose-feather pillow that Bush took along on the campaign trail to help him sleep at night. As the president-elect all but completed filling his cabinet last week, it became strikingly apparent whom he wants by his side in the Oval Office. For the jobs presidents usually deem most important, the offices that must cope with economic and national-security crises, Bush tapped a certain type: seasoned, non-ideological, pragmatic, discreet--and, perhaps above all, loyal. Even W's most conservative domestic appointees--John Ashcroft for attorney general and Gale Norton for Interior secretary--are personally congenial and have Bush ties. Ashcroft went to Yale; Norton was a Bush adviser in his presidential campaign.
The establishment, or at least the Bush-Ford wing of it, is back. Possibly as a hedge against his own inexperience, the president-elect has leaned heavily toward graybeards. The Bush cabinet is so full of former Ford-administration officials (Vice President Richard Cheney, 59; Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, 65; Rumsfeld, 68, who was also Gerald Ford's Defense secretary) that some wags were wondering if Bush would restore his father, Ford's CIA director, to his old job. Big thinkers--and big mouths--were not in evidence in the Bush lineup. Disappointed backers of one brainy candidate for the top Pentagon job, Paul Wolfowitz, grumbled about "NINA" (No Intellectuals Need Apply).
There is not a single top Bush adviser who would feel out of place in the Partners Room at Brown Brothers Harriman, the clubby Wall Street banking house from which the patriarch, Prescott Bush, ventured out into public service more than a half-century ago. George W. managed to run his cabinet selection with Skull-and-Bones-style secrecy. Reporters were left grasping for clues, like the fact that George W. spent the day before he made his toughest choice--secretary of Defense--fishing and golfing with his father in Florida.
It's not that the Bush inner circle is a white-male bastion; far from it. To Colin Powell at State and national-security adviser Condi Rice, Bush has added a third African-American, Education Secretary-designate Rod Paige, currently superintendent of Houston's school system. Bush praised Paige as a "reformer with results" who showed that "urban schools can be excellent schools." Bush has not only appointed more blacks but more women (three) than Bill Clinton did to his first cabinet. Significantly, Paige--like Rice and Powell--served the president-elect's father. (Paige endorsed Bush Senior for president in 1980.)
All in all, Bush's cabinet is more conservative than moderate. Liberal-interest groups will bitterly oppose the nominations of Ashcroft and Norton. In the months and years ahead, Bush may find himself entangled in nasty ideological fights over abortion (on judicial nominations) and the environment. But accommodating the right has long been a burden of the Bushes, dating back to the days when George Bush Senior was called a "lapdog" for catering to the right wing as Reagan's vice president. Bush Junior has tried to find conservatives who are acceptable to the True Believers, yet neither rabid nor disloyal.
The president-elect is clearly wary of anyone who comes with an agenda other than serving George W. Bush. The right had misplaced confidence that he would choose former senator Dan Coats as Defense secretary. A close friend of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (they attend the same prayer group twice a week), Coats has strong ties on Capitol Hill that could be useful at budget time. But when Coats met alone with Bush in a Washington hotel room early last week, an informed source told NEWSWEEK, the Indiana conservative made it clear that he wanted to roll back what he calls the "social experimentation" within the military. Like many conservatives, Coats believes that accommodations made to gays and women--what Coats described as "the feminization of the military"--sapped the armed forces during the Clinton era. As Defense secretary, he wanted to take on liberal-interest groups on the Hill--and needed the backing of the White House.
Bush recoiled. President Clinton had wasted the opening days of his presidency bogged down in a fractious struggle over gays in the military that produced the universally derided "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Bush was not about to make the same mistake. At his nomination ceremony, Rumsfeld signaled Bush's intentions, as well as his own, when he was asked if he planned to revisit the gays-in-the-military issue. "That is not an issue that President-elect Bush has discussed in his pronouncements on defense," said Rumsfeld. "And certainly the priorities are in other areas for me."
Bush's choice of Norton for Interior provoked howls from environmental groups. "With this nomination, George Bush has declared war on the environment," said Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth. Norton worked with Jim Watt at the Mountain States Legal Foundation in 1979 and then followed Watt to Washington to work in the Interior Department from 1985 to 1987. Watt, an outspoken foe of the greens, became a curse word to environmentalists. But those who know Norton say that she differs from her mentor in ways that are telling about George Bush. "There's all this talk about James Watt in a skirt," says Pam Eaton, a regional director of the Wilderness Society based in Colorado, Norton's home state. "No, no. She's not going to make outrageous statements and blunders. She's going to do it in a way that's much more friendly." Norton is smart and personable--important considerations to Bush.
To environmentalists, Norton's amiability makes her that much more dangerous. They say she will pose as an conservationist, going on about the joys of hiking and camping and pushing to fix up the crumbling national-park system for the enjoyment of tourists. Meanwhile, say these critics, she will move to exploit the wilderness for oil and gas. The greens have managed to stall oil drilling on the North Slope of Alaska for nearly two decades. With Norton at Interior and former oilmen Bush and Cheney at the White House, the battle over oil drilling in Alaska may finally reach a climax.
Bush has made it clear that he wants new energy sources to combat rising fuel costs that threaten the economy. But his more urgent focus may be in the defense and foreign-policy realms. In the household where he grew up, national security was the most important arena. To his credit, Bush has not shied from picking strong advisers. Rumsfeld at Defense and Powell at State will have to deal with very difficult choices about America's role in the world, trying to decide when to intervene in global hot spots and when to hold back. So far, no easy formula has emerged. Rumsfeld, meanwhile, will have to wrestle with a nasty budget crunch at the Pentagon. The weapons bought during the last great defense splurge in the Reagan era are wearing out. Should they be replaced--or should the military invest in a new generation of futuristic high-tech weapons?
Before making these sorts of choices, the Defense secretary is going to have to wrest back control of the Pentagon from the uniformed services. The generals and admirals have learned how to logroll, supporting each other's favorite weapons systems and presenting ever more costly wish lists to Congress. Rumsfeld will need to be just as tough as advertised to handle the top brass--and serve his new boss. Though he is said to have mellowed slightly over the years, "Rummy" still adheres to "Rumsfeld's Rules," which he announced on his last Pentagon tour 25 years ago. Among them: "Nothing in Washington is off the record." And: "Don't accept [a top White House job] or stay unless you have an understanding with the president that you're free to tell him what you think 'with the bark off' and you have the courage to do it." Clearly, President-elect Bush has not surrounded himself with sycophants. He can't afford to.