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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

43 to 44; COS Rahm; and Ryan v. Boehner

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President-elect Obama is receiving his first full CIA brief this morning, the same one President Bush is receiving. While I am certain President-elect Obama and his team have been studying up on the Islamist threats around the world, today begins his certain responsibility for protecting the U.S. against it, and with that responsibility I expect to see a significant change in the president-elect and his team. I have long thought that President Bush’s lack of partisan response to many partisan attacks has been rooted in his deep awareness of the conditions in the world, and I expect that awareness will change President-elect Obama quickly and towards the same sort of anti-partisanship that Bush has displayed except in the very last months of the electron cycles of ’02, ’04, and ’06.

Neil Cavuto noted yesterday the graciousness with which President Bush was reaching out to President-elect Obama. Cavuto –quickly becoming the best broadcast journalist at work today, and a natural replacement for Brit Hume– correctly noted that W is a very good guy, but I also think the outgoing president’s reach out to the Obamas reflects 43’s experience governing in the age of terror. He wants the new president to be as prepared as possible for the enormous stresses of the office. Here’s what Cavuto said:

CAVUTO: Well, he was classy, magnanimous, a gentlemen, ripped for being out of touch, he chose just the right touch, a man who critics say only mangled his words, conjured just the right ones. I’m not talking about John McCain yesterday. I’m talking about president bush today. McCain gave a very classy speech. The president made a very classy gesture, offering only good words for the man who repudiated his run at the white house, but going one better, inviting Barack and Michelle Obama to the white house to see the place, talk about the place, and the pressures of the place, in private. These were not empty words. The president put a transition team in place months ago so that a smooth transfer of power could take place. President bush didn’t have the same offer when he came into office. Lots of hurtful words since then. He wasn’t even running this year, but it seemed everyone, including his own party’s nominee was running against him all year. If he minded, he really didn’t show it. I remember talking to the president on the White House south lawn about it. “Does it all bug you?” I asked him. “Nah,” he said, shrugging his shoulders and adding simply, “I understand.” A man of the people and the nation seemingly at war with him, some for good reason, and others apparently lacking any reason. He did nothing personally, always handled himself with dignity, not by what he said but precisely what he did not. I have read that the president is as kind to the elevator operator at White House as he is to a visiting [head of] state to the White House. Every time I see him, he sticks around and personally shakes the hand of each member of my crew. That is each member of my crew for one of our interviews, every single one of them, every single picture. Now, I know [these are] little things, but to me these are big things, that speak of a man far bigger than the petty things I see in the press or I hear in a harsh campaign. That ended today with a quiet gesture today, from a president who would be in his right to wag a certain finger, but instead simply [offered] something else: his hand. Not a popular thing to say, is it? But it was, it is, and he’s a good fellow.

W is indeed a good fellow, and he’s also been in the office for seven plus years after 9/11, following the trail of the terrorists and being briefed daily on their plans. I think the detailed knowledge of the enemies hatred of all Americans makes the president feel very protective of all Americans, including his harshest critics and the nuttiest conspiracy theorists. I expect the same effect will take ahold of 44 as it has 43. Can any wartime president remain much of a partisan, or do they each want to be only as partisan as necessary to advance the election of themselves and their allies, sometimes failing to be partisan enough?

I hope Rahm Emanuel takes the COS job though I am told by folks who know him that his ambition has always been to be Speaker of the House some day. To step out of the line of succession in order to serve the new president would be a sacrifice on his part, as chiefs-of-staff come and go and their marks on history are light if remembered at all. But as Bill Kristol noted on my show yesterday, Emanuel’s “a Clinton Democrat who’s fought the left on quite a few issues.” Krsitol continued:

He voted for the war in Iraq, he’s a free trader. I actually agree that this is a sign that of course it’s going to be a tough, political White House. What do you expect? But that Emanuel will try not to let them go over a cliff.

Not only keep them from the cliff, I think, but also help greatly to keep Presdent Obama focused on the war, because Emanuel will not only bring a patriot’s zeal to that cause, but one backed by the knowledge that any successful attack on the US. will reintroduce the national security issue into American politics and to the great detriment of the Democrats. Bush’s success in protecting the country after 9/11 has effectively returned us to a pre-9/11 politics when it comes to homeland security, but that could change in one terrible day. Emanuel is hopefully the sort of COS who will continually work to keep the entire Administration focused on the threat from the jihadists.

The John Boehner v. Paul Ryan debate has broken out among GOP loyalists who wonder about the face of the party going into the wilderness. Mitch McConnell is widely admired and respected for his mastery of the Senate, but House GOP Leader Boehner has led two campaigns in which dozens of Republicans got mowed down. To a certain extent the dysfunction of the NRCC is not Boehner’s making, but the real concern is that as a youth demographic shifts towards the left, the GOP’s most visible face in the House these past three years has been one from a different era. An argument in favor of Boehner is that Eric Kantor will take over as whip and he can be the “new Newt.” Perhaps, but having two excellent communicators under 40 would be a huge advantage, which brings us to Paul Ryan.

If Ryan is willing to lead the House GOP –he has young children and worries about the travel that some think is necessary to the job (and it really isn’t)– the energy he would bring to the party and conservartives generally would be immediate. The first impact would be felt in the fund-raising coffers of an NRCC also led by a new face, probably Pete Sessions of Texas. If in two weeks a Ryan-Kantor-Sessions team begins the first of a weekly Thursday briefing on the issues facing Congress –using perhaps?– the response from the grass roots would be huge.

Change is coming to D.C. It needs to come to the House GOP as well.


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