Robert Novak

Rove in 1999 had pulled Bolten from the London office of Goldman Sachs and sent him to Austin to run the Bush presidential campaign's policy office. He consequently was thought of as Rove's man. That had led to a widespread belief, shared by me, that the president had missed an opportunity for change a month ago. Two steps had to be taken to overcome that impression, and Bolten succeeded last week on both counts.

First was his own replacement as OMB director. The promotion of Deputy Director Clay Johnson, a Bush aide dating back to his days as governor of Texas who has won few admirers during six years in Washington, would have been another unimpressive promotion from within. Portman is close to Bush but was a member of the House Republican leadership and a potential future speaker who can take his own position in the White House.

The second decision reverberated throughout Washington. Bringing his close policy aide, 36-year-old Joel Kaplan, from OMB to replace Rove as deputy chief of staff for policy signaled emphatically who was in charge. The combination of Rove's political and policy functions was one of many Bush mistakes after the 2004 election, and its correction was indispensable for Bolten's credibility.

The conventional wisdom is that the Democrats want to highlight Bush in nationalized midterm elections while Republicans want to hide him and let the party's congressional candidates run on their own. But the president of the United States cannot hide. Having confirmed his authority at the White House, Bolten now has the formidable task of reviving the lost virtues of credibility and competence.


In my column of April 17, the statement that the Israeli security wall "may be producing another generation of terrorists" should have been attributed to Israeli Defense Forces Brig. Gen. (ret.) Dov Sedaka instead of Brig. Gen. (ret.) Ilan Paz. Both are associated with the Economic Cooperation Foundation, a Tel Aviv think tank.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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