Posted on November 30, 1992 in Washington Watch

There are at least three major political “name games” being played simultaneously in Washington these days. The outcome of all three will be critical in determining the political direction of the country during the next four years.

The most consuming of these political name games is, of course, the speculation about the personnel of the incoming Clinton Administration.

In this regard, the Clinton transition staff has been quite cautious and deliberate. They are leaking no news—most probably because there is no news to be leaked. The President-elect will be personally involved, not just now but also after the inauguration, in all top-level personnel decisions, and he has not named names. The priorities of Clinton and his staff, until now, have been to outline initial policy options for the new Administration and to name a simply structured transition team which will lay the foundations for the new government.

Based on models from previous transition efforts, which have been carefully studied, the structure of the Clinton transition team consists of clusters of advisors and policy experts for each area of the government that the Clinton team will begin to manage as of January 20, 1993.

Four cluster chiefs who have been named so far; one each in the areas of Economic Policy, Domestic Policy, Health Care Policy and National Security Policy. Each of these cluster chiefs, in turn, will eventually establish sub-clusters to oversee transition efforts for the various branches of government that come under their purview.

For example, Samuel “Sandy” Berger, who served as Assistant Director of Policy Planning at the State Department under President Jimmy Carter, has been named as Assistant Transition Director in charge of the National Security area. He and his two aides, Nancy Soderberg (a former foreign policy aide to Senator Ted Kennedy, and Foreign Policy Director for the Clinton/Gore ‘92 campaign) and Leon Feurth (a former aide to Senator Al Gore), will soon name clusters to study and prepare transition plans for all the branches of government that involve National Security: the Department of State and Department of Defense, the National Security Council, the U.S. Information Agency, the Agency for International Development, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

Each of these sub-clusters will be charged with responsibility for preparing a lengthy memo that will cover eight discrete subjects: a description of major programs, their fiscal year 1993 budget authority and employment level; ongoing and imminent policy, i.e., issues that will require high-level attention within 90 days; the highest priority positions to be filled; budget and procurement issues; a list of current legislative initiatives and legislation that will soon expire; general observations and areas of concern; and background materials.

While speculation about policy and personnel is everywhere, it is important to note that it cannot even be assumed that the people appointed at this time to prepare reports or work on the transition team or one of its clusters will necessarily have any role in the new Administration. Their assignments are solely to prepare the way for the eventual appointees, a group which they may but are not certain to join.

And while there is no relationship between the “name game” players in the press and the “back room” of powerful lobbies in Washington, the game itself is interesting because it sheds light both on the favorite choices of various lobbies and on the genuinely hard decisions Clinton must eventually make as he seeks to assemble the best personnel for his Administration. For in doing so he must balance the interests of many competing constituencies that played a role in his electoral victory.

A single recounting of all the various and sundry lists of who is likely to be appointed to what leaves any observer confused. At least ten extraordinarily competent individuals can be found listed for nearly every available post. Because the Democrats have been out of power for twelve years, because the party enjoys a wealth of talent seeking an opportunity to help run the government, and because of the diversity of interest groups in the Democratic coalition, the lists of hopefuls read like a “Who’s Who” of Democratic policy-makers.

(The “name game” is so confusing that two daily Washington newsletters regularly allocate one or more pages to listing all the names which have been mentioned as being up for consideration for various positions, and one even refers to its list as a “scorecard.”)

The most frequently mentioned names for Secretary of State, for example, include such distinguished individuals as Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey, who is reported to be the top choice of organized labor; Warren Christopher, a former Under-Secretary of State in the Carter Administration reportedly opposed by the pro-Israel lobby, but is a close ally of Clinton and currently serving as Director of the overall transition team; Representative Lee Hamilton, the chairman of the important House Foreign Affairs Committee is also reportedly opposed by the pro-Israel lobby; Representative Tom Foley, Speaker of the House of Representatives; Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, a ranking Republican in the Senate with strong foreign policy credentials and possible “surprise” if Clinton decides to appoint a bi-partisan cabinet; and Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia who was a strong ally of Governor Clinton during the campaign, and has very strong foreign policy credentials.

Also mentioned, but less frequently, are Ron Brown, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who has expressed an interest in this position and will most certainly receive some post because of his strong leadership of the party during the campaign; Senator George Mitchell, the majority party leader in the Senate; Senator David Boren of Oklahoma who serves as Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence; Anthony Lake, a college professor who served as Director of Policy Planning in the Carter State Department and is strongly opposed by the pro-Israel lobby—he served as a senior advisor on foreign policy to Clinton during the campaign; Samuel Berger, and two candidates who are supported by the pro-Israel lobby but viewed as extreme long shots to get the position: Congressman Steve Solarz and former Vice President Walter Mondale.

Looking at the diversity of talent in the list, one can imagine the dilemma facing President-elect Clinton as he approaches the choice of Secretary of State. What is important to note is that all of the names mentioned on all of the lists thus far are based either on press speculation, the recommendations of interest groups, or prominent individuals who have directly expressed interest in the position. No one has been offered any post as of the time of this writing. And the Clinton camp insists that they have spoken to no one yet about any posts.

To make matters even more complicated for the President-elect, each cabinet post and sub-cabinet post is accompanied by an equally tempting array of choices as the one listed for the State Department.

Clinton’s blessing, having such a deep pool of talent—each one representing a particular interests group or set of groups—from which to draw, may also turn out to be the greatest challenge facing him, as he seeks both competence and balance in his Administration.


The other “name games” being played in Washington involve the now-humbled Republicans, as they attempt to regroup and redefine their party not only for 1996, but for the next four years of political debate and the 1994 Congressional elections which will take place in the interim.

Both Republican “name games” reflect the various groups jockeying for control of the direction of the party—the traditional conservatives, the neo-conservatives, the so-called religious right, the pragmatists and the moderates.

The first real test in the quest for control of the party apparatus will take place on the state, local and national levels. On the more local level, the religious right wing, sometimes called the Pat Robertson wing of the party, has won some important victories in several states. Having organized effectively on the grassroots level, they have won victories in precinct, county, and state central committee elections. Already the Michigan, Iowa and now the Louisiana parties are under their control. They have produced such a strong challenge in Texas’ all-important Harris County (Houston) that the moderate chairman for the county Republican forces recently resigned and announced plans to form a separate organization to challenge the religious right. A fierce battle is expected as well in California where the moderate Republican Governor Pete Wilson is under real pressure from the right-wing’s rank and file of his party.

On the national level the first major test for GOP direction will be the in January meeting of the national party when they meet to elect a new national chairman. Already a number of prominent Republicans have announced their candidacies for the job. A leading candidate is Spencer Abraham (an Arab American who formerly served as chair of the Michigan Republican Party, then came to Washington to serve as Deputy Chief of Staff to Vice President Dan Quayle, and now serves as Co-char of the National Republican Congressional Committee). Abraham has put together a powerful group of national endorsers for his candidacy, including William Bennett (former Reagan Education Secretary and Bush drug czar and a leader in the traditional wing of the party), Vin Weber (a former Congressman from Minnesota and a leading neo-conservative) and his former boss Dan Quayle.

Also in the running for GOP chair are Lynn Martin (former congressperson from Illinois and Bush’s Labor Secretary). Martin is a more moderate Republican who is opposed by the hard-line right wing of the party for her stand on abortion rights and is also considered tarnished by the Bush defeat. Another announced candidate for GOP chair, Charles Black (who was leader of the Bush ‘92 efforts) is also felt to have suffered as a result of the Bush loss. Two former Reaganites, Haley Barbour and Bo Callaway (former chair of the Colorado State Republican Party and ex-Secretary of the Army) are running as heirs of the Reagan legacy—seeking to return the party to its “roots”, while Missouri Governor Robert Ashcroft has expressed his intent to run as a leading moderate.

This interesting internal fight is evidence that the old political maxim “to the victor belongs the spoils” (meaning that the winner gets the right to divide jobs and favors among his supporters) also, in a way, applies to the losers in a campaign as they seek to pull themselves together and reposition themselves for the long-term fight to regain internal unity and find a direction that can produce victory.

If this weren’t confusing enough, already speculation abounds about GOP hopefuls for the 1996 Presidential race. This speculation is not so much a function of any real campaign underway—but of the alliances being formed and the jockeying for position that is taking place as Republican contenders size up their possibilities to challenge Clinton in 1996. Already names of potential candidates abound. Names to watch include: Jack Kemp (outgoing Secretary of HUD), who is now considered the favorite among the Republican rank and file, not only because he is their most charismatic leader, the most Reaganesque, but because he can bring together the most diverse group of Republican interest groups. Also mentioned and, therefore closely watched names include: Senator Bob Dole (minority leader of the Senate), Senator Phil Graham (Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee), Vice President Dan Quayle, Pat Buchanan, and at least six other prominent Republicans from all parts of the Republican political spectrum. Many of the ‘96 hopefuls appeared last week at the Republican Governors Association meeting to present their views on the direction that the party should take and to being to build alliances with other Republican leaders.

In addition, many of the same players have announced the formation of new organizations or institutes to serve as springboards for their ideas or their potential candidacies. The moderates have formed a “Republican Majority Coalition” to fight the influence of the religious right wing represented by Robertson’s “Christian Coalition”. The traditional conservatives led by Bennett have formed a “Republican Leadership Council”. And Pat Buchanan is forming still another group to represent its views.

It seems that one election is not quite over and already the next one is underway—at least in Washington among players of the “name games”.

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