Replying to questions before the Toronto economic summit last Wednesday, U.S. Treasury Secretary James Baker found himself fielding inquiries that had nothing to do with economic problems. Instead, reporters asked him when he planned to resign and take over the presidential campaign of his longtime friend Vice-President George Bush. “You got your Baker resignation yesterday,” said the treasury chief in a reference to the surprise departure of White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker a day earlier. The chief of staff had stated that personal reasons—chiefly the ill health of his wife, Joy—forced him to abandon his undertaking to stay at the White House until President Ronald Reagan leaves office next January. But he also indicated that he might be available for consideration as Bush’s running mate on the Republican presidential ticket.
Still, it was evident last week that a pressing issue for Republicans was when the other Baker would step in to save the faltering Bush campaign from its bitter infighting and free fall in the public-opinion polls. Last month, rivalry between campaign manager Lee Atwater and Bush chief of staff Craig Fuller burst into the open—following the resignation of the vice-president’s communications director, Peter Teeley. Since then, party leaders have been urging the treasury secretary to give the Bush team a single authoritative voice as campaign chairman. Said analyst William Schneider of the conservative American Enterprise Institute: “They need Jim Baker desperately.”
Those close to the vice-president predict that Baker, who ran Bush’s unsuccessful 1980 bid for the Republican nomination against Reagan, will leave his treasury post before the Republican convention to be held in New Orleans between Aug. 15 and Aug. 18. Baker is known as a shrewd strategist and he led the so-called troika—including Attor-
ney General Edwin Meese and former deputy chief of staff Michael Deaver— who ran Reagan’s first-term White House. He is widely regarded as the only figure capable of reviving Bush’s stalled campaign—some polls put him 14 points behind the virtually certain Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.
Indeed, members of the Bush camp
last week were embroiled in another embarrassing staff controversy. With a flourish, officials in campaign headquarters early last week announced that lobbyist James Lake, Reagan’s 1984 campaign press secretary, would succeed Teeley as communications director. But the conservative Washington Times revealed that Lake intended to combine his duties with lobbying for three top Japanese manufacturers—including Suzuki of America Automotive Corp. and Japan Auto Parts Industries Association-all of whom are currently involved in trade disputes with the ad-
ministration. United Auto Workers president Owen Bieber branded the appointment “offensive and disgusting.” The affair left the campaign particularly embarrassed at a time when Bush is trying to play down his patrician origins and portray himself as a friend of the average worker. Said Bieber: “It makes it plain once again that Bush and the Republicans have stronger sympathies with the foreign concerns enriching themselves in this market than they have for American workers who are the victims of this import tide.”
Bush’s staff problem is one of many that he has experienced since he wrapped up the Republican nomination last April. With a strong lead over his Democratic rivals only four months ago, Bush was criticized by observers then for his so-called imperial campaign, with its White House trappings and overflowing campaign chest. But now, as an underdog in the polls— especially among women voters—he is also in financial difficulty. His campaign is already close to its legal $27-million spending limit with close to two months to go before the party convention. And the vicepresident has been forced to cut back his travel schedule and rely increasingly on news conferences to outline his positions.
But Bush’s main problem now is to define what he stands for. Said William Schneider: “Dukakis hasn’t gone one step further in being specific about his platform than Bush has. But Dukakis doesn’t have to. s Bush does. Right now § he’s just a Ronald Reagan n clone.”
Last week, Bush held i news conferences to begin laying out his ideas on both drugs and education. And he professed to relish the fight ahead against Dukakis. Still, the candidate said that he would welcome James Baker’s help. Until recent weeks, both men had been telling supporters that Baker was performing a greater service for Bush by keeping the economy steady and the dollar stable. But they appear to have agreed that when the economic summit is over, the time will have come for Baker—who reportedly wants to be secretary of state—to come to the aid of both his friend and his party.
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