Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Closer Look at Romney’s Surrogates: John H. Sununu 1/3

by Nomad

Here's a three-part post about a man who has appeared on Fox News lately, declaring himself to be Mitt Romney "surrogate." Who is John Sununu and what was his history? It's worth taking a closer look.

The Importance of Being a Surrogate
When you study a candidate for high office, it's sometimes easy to forget that behind that person is a team of advisers who influence each and every one of his decisions. 
Conversely, it is important to note the kind of person that the candidate attracts.

So when it comes to Mitt Romney, it's fair to take a closer look at the people Romney surrounds himself with and who listens to. Should Romney win in November, it is quite possible that these people will form part of his cabinet or his personal staff. In this series, we will look at one such person, John H. Sununu. 

Apparently John Sununu is not exactly an official representative of Mitt Romney. He doesn’t seem to have any actual position in the campaign, as far I could tell. 
He is usually called “a key Romney surrogate”- which seems to mean somebody goes and talks to the media, promoting- and in Romney’s case, generally defending- the candidate. Presumably, these are people who are so in tune with their man that they can speak for him.

On the other hand, from Romney’s point of view, the use of so-called surrogates is exceedingly practical, since his opinion can change at any given moment.,And there’s one major advantage of being a surrogate- as opposed to an official spokesperson. In that surrogate position, you can make any kind of specious and ridiculous claim and the candidate doesn’t have to take any responsibility for the remarks.

As a surrogate, John Sununu is allowed - with the solid backing of Fox News- to state as fact nearly anything. Who is going to ask for evidence? 
Here’s a sample of some of Sununu’s allegations.

In May of this year, Sununu boasted to reporters about Romney’s private-equity investment firm, Bain Capital. “About 80 percent of the time they were able to save jobs at companies.”
Something that Bain never claimed. It was also something that Sununu had not an iota of evidence for. He had apparently made it up.
At around the same time, Sununu told reporters that President Obama “outsourced a major portion of the U.S. space program to the Russians.” In fact, it was George Bush that made the arrangement to rely on the Russian transport. After the shuttle service was retired, what did Sununu expect the president to do? 

In July, Sununu accused the president and his campaign of being “a bunch of liars” for suggesting that Romney might have committed a felony by claiming he had left Bain Capital in 1999, despite evidence that he was still managing the company. During that same conference call to reporters, Sununu said, “I wish this president would learn how to be an American.”
In response, Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for the Obama campaign, said the Romney campaign “has officially gone off the deep end.”
Sununu’s statement shouldn’t really surprise anybody. He had earlier appeared on Fox News and made this similar claim. Of Obama, he said:
“He has no idea how the American system functions. And we shouldn’t be surprised about that, because he spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something, spent … another set of years in Indonesia.”
This kind of nonsense might play well with the most extreme right-wing voter but for the undecided or independent voters- who will ultimately decide who will be the next president- Sununu’s fitful and desperate remarks do more harm to Romney than good. (But then, as we shall see, this wouldn't be the first time, Sununu has become a loose cannon on a sinking ship.) 

In fact, this remark about Obama’s American credentials is quite ironic. If anything, Sununu own background is far more exotic than Obama’s. On his father’s side, Sununu is of Palestinian descent and a member of the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem. His mother, Victoria Dada, was from San Salvador and John Sununu, himself, the man who preaches to other about how to be American. was born in- wait for it- Havana, Cuba.

Clearly, Sununu should be taking “lessons in American” from Obama.
One thing is clear: Sununu is a man who isn’t afraid of creating a stir. Throughout his career, Sununu has been something of a lightning rod. It is a role he apparently enjoys. His motto during his Bush years was “I don't care if people hate me, as long as they hate me for the right reasons.
If that statement encapsulates Sununu’s management style, it also suggests the main reason for his eventual downfall.

As a surrogate, many might consider this to be sad concluding chapter in the life of a former politician. A man who is losing that last bit of dignity he has retained. 
But that’s not the case with Sununu. 
Most people would say that he lost that dignity quite a while back when he was the Chief of staff for President George H.W. Bush.

The story of his time as Chief of Staff for George Bush, Sr. is not a particularly happy one. But then that’s the reason why I’d like to share it with you.

On Management Style and Character
Let’s crank up the Nomadic time machine and journey back to the end of the Reagan era. 

It is November of 1988 and George H.W. Bush, Reagan’s vice-president, has just won the presidential election, beating out the Democratic rival Michael Dukakis, then Governor of Massachusetts. with 63.4 percent of the ballots cast.
Weeks after winning the election in 1988, President-elect George Bush announced that- contrary to expectations, Craig L. Fuller, the Chief of Staff under Reagan-Bush administration, would be replaced by New Hampshire governor John H. Sununu.

Bush reportedly felt he owed Sununu the appointment for his help in bringing New Hampshire over to the Republicans in the primaries. According to at least one historian, Without Sununu, Bush may well not have won the New Hampshire primary, and without that, the nomination.

Nevertheless, appointing Sununu was a controversial decision due to his poor standing with Jewish groups. They had not forgotten the fact that Sununu was the only governor that refused to sign a June 1987 statement denouncing a 1975 United Nations resolution that equated Zionism with racism. Given his Arab background, many Jewish leaders questioned his impartiality when it came to the Middle East foreign policy.
His excuse- which nobody believed for a second- was that it was ''inappropriate'' for a governor to deal with foreign policy issues. (Eventually, he reversed that decision and adopted the Republican pro-Israel platform.)

There's no question of whether Sununu took his job seriously. The problem was his management style. According to the book, The Modern Presidency, as Chief of Staff, Sununu's liability was his desire to control communication to the president.
Sununu personal policy agenda made it difficult at times for those in the cabinet or staff who wanted to speak with the president about a different approach to get through Sununu's gauntlet. 
If some were upset, Sununu apparently felt it was simply part of his job. Sununu saw all this as a sign of loyalty to his boss and felt that, no matter who might object, the ultimate duty lay with the president- and nobody else. The fact that this was a very narrow view of his complex job never seemed to occur to him.

Indeed, it is not unusual for Chiefs of Staff to control access to the president.  In fact, keeping focus is a critical part of the job and time management is key to any successful organization. 
However in Sununu’s case, it went much further. Staffers were accusing him of controlling policy by controlling who could and could not meet with the president. 

In one case, one cabinet member, Michael Boskin, chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, actually threatened to resign if Sununu continued to restrict meetings with the president. Sunucu, it was charged, was not merely acting as a channel of information, but as a biased filter.
*    *    *    *
Outside of his working methods there was also the question of Sununu's character. His unquestionably high intelligence, normally an fine attribute, reportedly became the source of his overweening arrogance. He was accused by some of a "lack of civility" "gratuitous ad hominem insults” and general rude behavior. 

At the close of the second year of Bush's administration, many had decided that Sununu was becoming a problem. And to top it off, President Bush didn't seem to know what was actually going on in his own administration. 
Senior Bush aides were so upset at being cut off by Sununu that the president was forced to open a post office box at his summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine, as a back channel so that his top advisers could contact him directly without Sununu's censorship. The very fact that President Bush felt compelled to set up a private box, physically and organizationally outside the White House, was an admission of organizational failure.
Bush didn't realize the damage Sununu had caused.. because he had come to rely so heavily on Sununu for information. The president, who vowed never to isolate himself in his own White House, found himself by 1991 increasingly cut off from his far-flung network of friends and allies.
Another example of his high-handed attitude comes from the book, Honor, and Loyalty: Inside the Politics of the George H.W. Bush White House, When the Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis Sullivan and Office of Personnel management head Constance Newman, both African Americans, went to visit the president to discuss civil rights. Sununu refused to let them in, explaining that civil rights was not part of their job description.

It wasn't so much whether Sununu was right or wrong, it was his inability to be diplomatic, to express or even feign respect for anybody at a lower pay-grade.
Sununu acted as if he did not understand the import of his words.
His intelligence also allowed him to make rationalizations for his behavior. Furthermore, his pride in his IQ made him arrogant and a bully to everybody who was unfortunate to work for him. struck many with whom he worked that he seemed to have to put others down in order to demonstrate how smart he was.
Although Sununu or any other member of the Bush administration didn’t realize it at the time, Sununu’s sense of his own superior intelligence was his Achilles’ heel and this would eventually lead to a major blunder for the Bush administration. 
And the repercussions of that mistake lasted long after President Bush left the Oval Office.

In part two of this series, we will continue with an examination of Sununu's fatal character flaws which ultimately created major headaches for the Bush administration.