HOUSTON -- Upstaging his own nominating convention, President Bush said last night he plans to make "a lot of changes" in his Cabinet if he is elected to a second term.
The president's talk of a Cabinet shake-up came on the second day of the convention, where speaker after speaker continued to pound Democratic nominee Bill Clinton.
"I think you'll see . . . a lot of changes in people, maybe in structuring in the executive branch itself," Mr. Bush said during a television interview. "You'll see plenty of new faces, plenty of changes in this administration."
Mr. Bush refused to identify any specific personnel moves he would make and described the reshuffling as a traditional pattern followed by presidents beginning a second term.
But considering his low standing in the polls and the criticism leveled at many of his Cabinet officers, it appeared that Mr. Bush was responding to complaints that his administration needs new blood.
"You do need a new sense of revitalizing the bureaucracy," Mr. Bush said on PBS's "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour." "Four years is a heavy duty in a Cabinet officer's role."
Speculation immediately began to swirl here about who was likely to be on the way out. Conservatives have been strongly urging the president to replace Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady and Budget Director Richard G. Darman, who are blamed for advising Mr. Bush to break his no-new-taxes pledge and not acting more quickly on the stagnant economy.
Other Cabinet officers, such as Interior Secretary Manual Lujan Jr., are simply regarded as poor performers. Housing Secretary Jack F. Kemp, who has been frustrated in his job, is expected to leave to mount his own bid for president in 1996.
Inside the Astrodome, Day Two of the Republican convention sounded like a rerun of opening night. Leading the Clinton-bashing barrage were several Republicans with 1996 presidential ambitions: Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, the convention keynoter; Mr. Kemp; Massachusetts Gov. William F. Weld; and Education Secretary Lamar Alexander.
Mr. Gramm accused Mr. Clinton and the "block-everything" Democrats in Congress of seeking to "disarm America again" by proposing deep cuts in military spending, now that the Cold War is over.
"America's problem today is not that the president's plan to energize the economy has failed. Our problem is that it has not been tried," he said, repeating a familiar Bush White House refrain that Congress, not the president, is to blame for the sluggish economy.
Mr. Gramm said Republicans want to "cut taxes again" to get the economy moving, but Mr. Bush's spokesman refused again yesterday to say whether the president would make such a proposal this week, as GOP conservatives have urged.
The 50-year-old Texas senator, who is already waging an aggressive backstage campaign for the 1996 nomination, compared Mr. Clinton to a used car salesman, and claimed that the Arkansas governor is trying to sell "a lemon to the nation" -- the same sort of economic policies pushed by the last Democratic president, Jimmy Carter.
Mr. Kemp, introduced by fellow NFL Hall-of-Fame quarterback Roger Staubach, claimed that Mr. Clinton's proposed tax increase for the wealthy would also hurt poor and middle-class Americans.
"Mario Cuomo gave away the Democrats' game plan . . . just before their convention when he told us that Governor Clinton has the courage to raise our taxes," Mr. Kemp said. "The FTC Democrats call that courage. I call it crazy."
Mr. Weld, 47, the first Republican governor of Massachusetts in two decades, used his turn at the microphone to accuse Mr. Clinton of being soft on crime.
But he also took the opportunity to criticize his own party for its anti-abortion position.
"I want the government out of your pocketbook and your bedroom," said the former Reagan Justice Department official, who describes himself as a libertarian. "Unlike the Democrats, George Bush and the Republican Party are not afraid of a little disagreement. My appearance before you tonight proves it."
Education Secretary Alexander, a former Tennessee governor, blasted Mr. Clinton as a tool of teachers unions like the National Education Association, which has endorsed his candidacy.
"Bill, if you can't say no to Ted Kennedy and the leaders of the NEA, then why on earth should the people of America say yes to you?" Mr. Alexander asked.
For their part, the Democrats responded yesterday with new television ads designed to rebut a misleading GOP claim, repeated by Mr. Gramm and other convention speakers, that Mr. Clinton is proposing the largest tax increase in history.
"And now a short break for the facts," says one of the ads. "On Nov. 5, 1990, George Bush signed the second-biggest tax increase in American history. Under Bill Clinton, Arkansas has the second-lowest tax burden per person in the country.
"Those are the facts. Now back to the show."