Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Closer Look at Romney’s Surrogates- John H. Sununu 2/3

by Nomad

In PART ONE of this three-part series, we examined John Sununu's new role as a Mitt Romney surrogate. We then took a look at the man, his character and how his character affected his performance in his former position as George H.W. Bush's Chief of State in the early 1990s. 
In this post, we will start out with one of Sununu's important miscalculations.

The Appointment Blunder
When Supreme Court Justice William Brennanknown for being a leader of the Court's liberal wing, stepped down, President Bush had expressed desire to nominate Clarence Thomas to the court. This was part of a long term agenda to place a conservative majority on the bench. The genius of the agenda, so the theory went, was that liberals would see a black man, or a woman, or a Hispanic, but the mindset was very much conservative. A faux kind of affirmative action for the Supreme Court.

However, because of Thomas’ lack of plausible qualifications for the position, the idea was eventually nixed. (The idea would later be -out of necessity- revived and that would lead to exactly what President Bush had feared -a major confirmation skirmish for the Bush administration.)
What they needed was somebody whose background was spotless and whose views were not extremist- or at least, not conspicuously so.

At that time the Republican senator from New Hampshire, Warren Rudman, a friend to Sununu, suggested the name Judge David Souter. While it was true that Souter was relatively unknown, he had had seven years of judicial experience at the appellate level, four years at the trial court level, and ten years with the Attorney General's office.

Sununu knew that the president was eager not to have another Bork fiasco on his hands and Souter had one major advantage.
Earlier, Judge Robert Bork’s controversial and well-documented views- namely his strong opposition by civil and women's rights groups- had proved to be an embarrassment at his confirmation hearings and the nomination was rejected by the Senate. The far-sighted Senator Ted Kennedy, on the floor of the Senate, laid out the liberal objections:
Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy ...
In the end, the Senate had rejected Bork's confirmation, with 42 Senators voting in favor and 58 voting against. It had come to symbolize a powerful opposition to the conservative agenda. Naturally, President Bush did not wish to see a repeat performance.

Souter’s views on many controversial issues, unlike Bork’s, were unknown. He was deemed- ironically, as it turned out- "the stealth candidate" because there was nothing on record that could be brought up against Souter at the confirmation hearings.
John Sununu, determined to show his value to the president, emboldened by the inflated sense of intellectual superiority and convinced by Rudman, took the idea to the president. Together Sununu and Rudman successfully sold Souter as a judge that would tip the balance in favor of the conservatives. It must have looked brilliant to Sununu.

Sununu’s opinion was a key factor in Bush’s decision to go with Souter. That was natural since Sununu had effectively isolated the president from any dissenting opinion. 

Sununu has written that Souter's nomination to the high court was a "home run" for conservatives, a prediction that would prove inaccurate...Souter biographer Tinsley Yarbrough writes that "David Souter would figure prominently in the partial failure of the Reagan-Bush Supreme Court agenda."
(That agenda -in effect, court stacking was something that Franklin Roosevelt had been roundly condemned for attempting- was not, by any means, a failure as we can see when we look at the court and its decisions today.)

With Sununu’s enthusiastic recommendation, President Bush nominated Souter on July 25, 1990. After some dutiful opposition by liberal senators at the hearing, Souter won an easy confirmation. And why not? There was nothing to argue with in his record.

Souter however proved to be not quite the conservative “home run” that Sununu had promised. In time, the conservatives understood they had been hoodwinked.
Confirmation for that suspicion came some ten years later in an article for the Wall Street Journal. Rudman, the article revealed, took "pride in recounting how he sold Mr. Souter to gullible White House Chief of Staff John Sununu as a confirmable conservative. Then they both sold the judge to President Bush, who wanted above all else to avoid a confirmation battle."

And the person most responsible for this débâcle is, without question, John Sununu- the present-day Romney surrogate.

Of Courtiers and Crowns
In the book, George Bush: The Life of a Lone Star Yankee, author Herbert S. Parmet, points out that George Bush’s health problems -thyroid disease- were casting some doubt on his re-election plans.

Additionally, the perception- true or not- was that Sununu was exploiting the president’s poor health.
By mid-1991, Sununu was simply shutting down any proposal or initiative before it reached the Oval Office... Many said that Sununu was the author of a "reign of terror" from which the white House staff "never really recovered their political instincts," and that the chief of staff, more than any single individual was most liable for Bush's defeat."
After years of Chief of Staff. and antagonizing so many, the knives were being sharpened. Of course, the greatest enemy Sununu had in the administration was Sununu himself. He had become, as the saying goes, “gotten too big for his britches.” 

In the book, The Candidate: What it Takes to Win - and Hold - the White House, the author notes how Sununu’s oppressive influence, his effective sealing off of the Oval Office were to lead to major problems.
While Sununu was extremely good at processing critical memos and making the trains run on time, he also acted as if he were the deputy president. Instead of making sure the president always knew about conflicts on which he need to weigh in, Sununu used his control of presidential access to enforce his opinions about the correct presidential decisions.
In spring of 1991, the day of reckoning for Sununu finally arrived. The Washington Post broke the story that the Chief of Staff had taken more than 75 trips around the country aboard military aircraft. Although nearly all of the trips had been declared official business, according to the article, some of them seemed to consist of pleasure trips for Sununu and his family. The article stated that the military jets "took him to fat-cat Republican fund-raisers, ski lodges, golf resorts and even his dentist in Boston."
This article was following by a series of embarrassing disclosures.

For his part Sununu had paid the government only $892 for his more than $615,000 worth of military jet travel. When asked to reimburse the government, he did so but reportedly only at the cost of a normal commercial coach fare for the flights, ( plus $1) and not at the $3,945 an Hour. That was the estimated cost to fly the 12-passenger, twin-engine C-20 military jet. That’s not including the five-man crew.

Sununu's horoscope for the entire month of June in 1991 must have told him to stay in bed, take no calls and don't open the front door. It was a very lousy time for Sununu. 
The ensuing scandal -a pretty tame affair, by most standards- would just not go away, mainly because reporters were being fed tidbits and kibbles every day. The information for the Washington Post article (and subsequent articles) had come from leaks from insiders.

And that was perhaps the most interesting aspect of the whole sordid business; how much it revealed about the inner dynamics of the Bush administration and, by implication, how few people actually liked Sununu, indeed, how many were prepared to plunge the dagger in his back.
The Los Angeles Times in June 1991 wrote:
White House officials said Sununu is unlikely to be swayed by such criticism. ‘Sununu doesn't play by your rules, or our rules, or Washington rules,’ one official said. ‘He plays by his rules and he's not going to change.’
Mind you, that was the message coming- not from the Congress or from the reporters- but from his own colleagues. Sununu is not going to change so he must be removed.
Nobody "knew" the leakers. They were coming out of the woodwork to tip off the reporters" to every misstep, unique to him or not. When he fell, not a person offered to help. Bush, in dealing with the problem of his chief of staff, felt powerless. "Everybody seemed to have a Sununu story."
The news forced the president into the uncomfortable position of chastising the one person on whom he had come to depend. Bush ordered Sununu. to clear all future flights with the White House counsel's office. Publicly, the president was on the defensive, claiming that his chief of staff had done actually nothing illegal but also said that the White House would “review the Government policy that allowed John H. Sununu, the White House chief of staff, to use military aircraft for personal and political business, as well as on Government matters..”

At this point, Sununu might have been able to salvage the situtation with a mea culpa act and promising to mind his "P's" and "Q's" from that point on. He could also have made some attempt to show a bit of humility around the office. 
But because John Sununu was never that type of person, that clearly was not going to happen. Besides, Sununu apparently felt he was untouchable.
And eventually his refusal to alter his behavior, to overhaul his attitude and to conform to the rules forced the administration to take action. 
In the conclusion, we will see the ax come down on the Chief of Staff and how nobody cried to see him go. We will also examine the effects of keeping Sununu in his position as long as George Bush, Sr. did.  
To return to PART ONE
To continue to PART THREE