SENATOR DON RIEGLE, Chairman, government relations, APCO Worldwide,
It seems clear that the White House and Senate Republican leaders were
both caught flat-footed. While it's doubtful that any late GOP
initiative to dissuade Jeffords would have worked; it seems that too
little was attempted - and much too late. Jeffords' image is improved.
Although he has received anonymous death threats from those angry with
his move, Vermonters - who count the most - generally support his
decision. Tom Daschle and the newly enfranchised Democratic chairmen now
have their first chance in six or so years to show what they can do. If
they build a record of achievement, their image will be greatly
enhanced. The greatest potential gain will come in the area of
bipartisan policy achievement. While difficult to achieve, it's what the
country wants and needs. In the Senate, Republicans, Democrats and
Independent Jim Jeffords will all rise in public esteem if they can
bridge partisan differences and make real progress together in improving
our national condition. Those who cause it to happen will all grow in
CHARLES DOLAN, SVP, government relations, Ketchum, Washington, DC
In Washington, image and perception are as important as reality. Sen.
Jeffords appears to have weathered his defection very well. The people
of Vermont support him 67% to 27%. Jeffords is the reigning hero of the
Democratic Party, but a pariah to right wing Republicans and the
conservative press. Majority leader Tom Daschle skillfully leveraged
Jeffords' frustrations with the Republicans, becoming the first
opposition leader ever to move from the minority to the majority as the
result of a party defection. But President Bush's image took a hit. The
proverbial buck stops at the White House and many question Bush's
political skills after reports that he was blindsided by the defection.
Bush just learned the hard way that every senator is a king. Trent
Lott's ham-fisted approach cost him not only his leadership position but
also control of the Senate agenda. His image as a parliamentary leader
has been damaged. In Washington, losing is never good for one's
LANNY DAVIS, Partner, Patton Boggs, Washington, DC
The White House damage control strategy in response to the Jeffords
defection was a perfect example of breaking every fundamental rule of
effective crisis management. "Get out in front and be proactive" - Not.
They were blindsided and ignored obvious amber (if not red) lights
before it went public. Example: There was a report on CNN the Friday
before the announcement, yet no one in the White House saw it or took it
seriously. "Stay on message," "Don't deny the obvious," "Turn a negative
into a positive." Not, not, not. Messages from the White House included:
"No big deal." (Right!), "We've been reaching out already - Jeffords is
quirky (or, whispered, a traitor)," and "It's better to be in opposition
anyway." Obviously the lesson to be learned here is, simply put, admit
the obvious and move on: "Yes, we're disappointed. It's a setback. We
need to do better. We respect Sen. Jeffords. Now we need to reach out
and prove to the American people that we are a centrist-moderate
administration that truly believes in 'compassionate conservativism,'
etc." Maybe that's how they'll handle it next time - say, when Sen.
McCain defects. Stay tuned.
JAMIE MOELLER, Managing Director, global public affairs practice, Ogilvy
PR, Washington, DC
Senator Jim Jeffords' decision to leave the Republican Party set off a
domino effect that created a new power structure in Washington, DC. Like
most events there, Jeffords' move had pundits assigning winners and
losers. From my point of view, the winners are the 2004 presidential
contenders: Daschle (D-SD), Kerry (D-MA), Edwards (D-NC), and maybe most
of all, Sen. McCain (R-AZ). McCain can once again claim that the Bush
Republicans are out of step with the voters. The obvious losers are
President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Trent Lott, who are now forced
to compete with the Democrats over legislative priorities. In the end,
maybe the person who has lost the most is Justice Scalia, whose chances
of becoming Chief Justice have greatly diminished. And the group that
has benefited the most from this story is the group that loves a good
story? The national media.