President Bush's selection of Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner as his new White House chief of staff and Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher as general chairman of his re-election campaign displays an instinctive turn to pragmatism in times of trouble. These are men comfortable with the moderate conservatism that Mr. Bush's friends and enemies in the Republican Party have always expected of him -- the former with unrequited hope, the later with undying suspicion.
The right-wing crazies, the "movement" conservatives and the social-agenda zealots in the GOP will not be happy. But to keep too many from straying to Pat Buchanan or the despicable David Duke, the president should be able to trot out Dan Quayle. The vice president was a liability in 1988; he could be a political trump card in mollifying the conservatives in 1992.
What triggers civil warfare within Republican ranks is the same phenomenon that has reinvigorated the Democrats. It is the recession, which even the White House now concedes can last until mid-1992 -- a dangerous prospect for Mr. Bush. As the doldrums continue, the primary calendar will unfold relentlessly. Mr. Buchanan, his screaming persona defined by television, will make his bid in New Hampshire on Feb. 25. Then will come Maryland and perhaps Georgia on March 3, two states targeted by Klansman Duke. A week later a Southern super-Tuesday encompassing Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas will determine if Mr. Duke can do to the GOP what George Wallace did to the Democrats.