WASHINGTON -- With President Bush at a low point in the polls, the Republican far right wing grumbling and casting about for a challenger to him and the Democrats rethinking their chances to upset him in 1992, discussions are under way in the Bush political inner circle on the team that will run his re-election campaign.
The early indications are that Bob Teeter, the Detroit pollster, campaign analyst and key member of the so-called "Gang of Six" that ran the Bush nomination campaign in 1988, will be the main strategist and that a strong organization man will handle the day-to-day operations, with an aide to White House chief of staff John Sununu implementing political decisions made by Teeter, Sununu and other strategists.
Being mentioned for the hands-on organizational job are former Nixon sub-Cabinet member Fred Malek, now an airline executive, and the current secretary of transportation, Sam Skinner, who ran Bush's campaign in Illinois in 1988. The political post appears slated to go to Ed Rogers, a young Sununu subordinate with a reputation for efficiently following orders and never letting Sununu's coattails hit the ground.
Also mentioned as part of the team is the current secretary of commerce, Robert Mosbacher, the principal fund-raiser for the 1988 Bush campaign and a member of the "Gang of Six." Another member of the "gang," media consultant Roger Ailes, is expected to handle the media advertising again, although there are reports that Sig Rogich, the Nevadan who now serves as the White House image-shaper, would like that job.
Finally, political consultant Charlie Black, who has been filling in as spokesman for the Republican National Committee for the indisposed party chairman, Lee Atwater, is expected to work with Teeter on strategy, as will Atwater as his health permits.
Absent from this lineup is the man who oversaw the Bush nomination campaign in 1988 from his chair as secretary of the treasury and then left it to run the fall campaign -- the current secretary of state, James Baker. Baker agonized long and hard in 1988 about putting on a political operator's coat again and he certainly isn't going to shed his striped pants now for what he has always seemed to consider a dirty-fingernails job.
The assignment of Teeter, a moderate who was also a pollster/strategist in the Reagan 1984 re-election campaign, as the top strategist will be well-regarded in the party. But the possible appointment of Malek as the top inside man risks noisy criticism from the news media and the American Jewish community for his role in implementing two controversial orders of President Nixon, the first of which came to light in the Watergate investigation in 1974 and the second in the 1988 campaign.
The first involved what was called the "responsiveness" program in the Nixon re-election campaign. Malek, as a special assistant to Nixon in 1972, wrote a memo to Nixon chief of staff H.R. Haldeman calling on all Cabinet departments and agencies to disburse federal contracts where they would do the re-election campaign the most good. Malek said later the program was a mistake but insisted he had broken no law.
The second controversy erupted in 1988 shortly after presidential nominee George Bush named Malek deputy party chairman. The Washington Post found in the Nixon archives 1971 memos establishing that Malek at Nixon's demand had prepared a list of Jewish employees at the Bureau of Labor Statistics after Nixon had complained that a "Jewish cabal" there was trying to undermine his record on the state of the economy. Some of those listed later were reassigned to other Labor Department jobs.
In the critical memo, Malek wrote to Haldeman that 13 of 35 top bureau officials were Jewish, or, as the memo put it, "13 of the 35 fit the other demographic criterion that was discussed," presumably in the conversation in which Malek had received his orders. Malek insisted he had done nothing wrong, but resigned from the party post because he said he did not want the matter to jeopardize Bush's election chances. The incident triggered criticism from Jewish groups but in the end was not a major factor in the election.
Discussions on the makeup of the 1992 Bush team are said to be continuing, with nothing yet set in concrete, but with an awareness that it is not too soon to start gearing up for what earlier had been contemplated as a relatively easy re-election effort.
Columnists Germond and Witcover, members of The Evening ; Sun's staff, also appear in the Perspective section of The ; Sunday Sun.