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April 19, 2006
The Opening Gambit

The new White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten made two moves today in his new assignment to bring change to the West Wing and a fresh set of faces to national policy. Neither of the two moves came as much of a surprise, as Scott McClellan left and Karl Rove left his policy post as deputy chief of staff to focus on the midterm elections:

Karl Rove, the president's most influential adviser and a dominant force in the Bush administration since its beginning, surrendered key policy responsibilities today while press secretary Scott McClellan announced his resignation.

Both moves were part of the makeover promised earlier this week by a White House seeking to reverse sagging public opinion ratings.

Rove will remain deputy chief of staff to President Bush, but he will drop his portfolio as policy coordinator -- a job he assumed a year ago -- and once again concentrate his focus on broader strategy and politics as the 2006 mid-term elections approach, the White House announced.

McClellan's exit comes as no shock to anyone. He performed well enough, but lately has seemed either overmatched by the hostility of the White House press corps or just out of gas. The exchanges between McClellan and the gaggle have become increasingly personal, and the tension has not helped with getting the president's message out to the electorate. When the press secretary becomes the story for weeks on end, the communication process is broken.

The bigger news to most people will be the announcement that Karl Rove will leave the policy portfolio behind and work exclusively on the upcoming elections. That hardly qualifies as a surprise, either. Rove formally took on policy only after the 2004 elections gave George Bush the last electoral victory of his political career. Most of us expected Rove to informally drop the policy-wonk persona once the 2006 primaries came close. This only makes that reassignment official. The GOP needs a fully-engaged Karl Rove in the election, especially since the polling has looked somewhat grim for the Republicans, at least nationally. With the party squabbling and a testy debate about to break out about the direction of the party, Rove can lend his formidable talents to bringing political unity among the factions.

Neither announcement really indicates much change at all. McClellan's departure will put a visible facade on Bolten's mandate, and the new press secretary could create some fresh buzz for the White House. For changes of more significance, we will have to wait a little longer.

UPDATE: Corrected spelling of Scott McClellan's last name -- no 'D' -- thanks to Monkyboy.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 19, 2006 6:05 PM

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