• U.S.

Exit the Californians

5 minute read
Susan Tifft

The beginning of a President’s second term is typically a time of musical chairs. Richard Nixon, who until last November was the only President in 28 years to be elected to a second term, requested written resignations from all his top appointees one day after trouncing George McGovern. Ronald Reagan took precisely the opposite tack, asking all his advisers to stay in place.

Several of Reagan’s aides, however, have felt a hankering to move on. Last week it was announced that two of the President’s closest California confidants would soon take their leave: Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Deaver wants to bolster his bank account, and Interior Secretary William Clark plans to ride back to his 880-acre ranch near San Luis Obispo. Two others in the California contingent are also poised to shift. After a bruising inquiry into his finances, Presidential Counsellor Edwin Meese was renominated last week to succeed Attorney General William French Smith, thus bringing Smith closer to his goal of returning to private law practice.

Deaver’s departure is perhaps the most critical. For the past 18 years, he has enjoyed an almost familial intimacy with the First Couple, acquiring along the way an unsurpassed talent for packaging Reagan in glowing, telegenic images. His most recent brainstorm: asking ABC to include the President, by remote broadcast, in the opening ceremonies of the Super Bowl.

Deaver, 46, has long made no secret of wanting to return to private life, saying he found it difficult to live in Washington on his White House salary (currently $72,000 a year). His resignation came on the day that a Wall Street Journal article raised questions about the propriety of his wife allegedly earning more than $50,000 a year as a public relations consultant handling some clients who have dealt with her husband at the White House. Chief of Staff James Baker insisted that “there is absolutely no connection” between the timing of Deaver’s exit and the Journal story. Deaver reportedly has been offered more than $200,000 a year to head the Washington office of Burson-Marsteller, the world’s largest public relations firm. After his departure, the cheery yet canny aide will doubtless remain a close consultant to the family (see cover story).

Clark told Reagan of his intention to resign during the New Year’s holiday. The request was hardly new. Almost two years ago, Clark, then National Security Adviser, felt worn down by White House battles and talked of leaving Washington. But Reagan persuaded Clark to stay, and later appointed him to replace bumptious James Watt as Interior Secretary. After the election, hard-line conservatives pushed Clark as a replacement for Chief of Staff James Baker, who aspired to a Cabinet post. The President kept Baker. There has been speculation that Clark is leaving because he has no prospect of returning to the White House, but he denies that he is disillusioned with his role in the Administration. “There’s no truth to that,” he says flatly.

Clark, 53, whose friendship with Reagan goes back to the President’s two terms as Governor of California, arrived in Washington as Deputy Secretary of State under Alexander Haig. Clark’s appointment raised eyebrows because of his scant knowledge of foreign affairs. But he quickly overcame the know-nothing image. During his 15-month reign at Interior, Clark has changed few of his predecessor’s policies, but he has scored points with some conservationists for at least listening to their concerns.

The front runner to succeed Clark appears to be Secretary of Energy Donald Hodel. A native Oregonian, Hodel is as ideologically conservative as Watt but far more approachable. Should Hodel take the helm from Clark, the White House may try to carry out Reagan’s 1980 campaign pledge to abolish the Energy Department, folding many of its functions into an expanded Interior Department and shifting its nuclear weapons research to the Pentagon.

The Administration may also soon lose United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick. Long frustrated in her attempts to win a more powerful niche in Washington’s foreign policy hierarchy, Kirkpatrick in late November said she would resign when the 1984 U.N. session ended. She has since agreed to remain until March. The President greatly respects the sometimes cantankerous Kirkpatrick and is scheduled to talk to her about job prospects after the Inauguration. Her desire to become a top adviser in the White House, however, seems unlikely to be fulfilled.

The scheduled departure of forceful conservatives left many members of the New Right dismayed. Those whose stature stands to increase: Baker, a moderate whose pre-eminent position in the West Wing is now undisputed; Richard Darman, a capable Baker ally and legislative strategist; and Craig Fuller, an aide to Meese.

What the White House loses in ideological purity may be replaced by increased efficiency among the more pragmatic survivors. Reagan himself will probably serve as the key White House Reaganite. For all his well-known detachment, he is a master at charting his own course. “The President has a way of balancing things out,” says one White House aide. “His nature is that he is an ideologue and a pragmatist, a ‘Californian’ and a ‘non-Californian.’ He will have the kind of team he needs.”

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