The news that Washington DC’s second most powerful couple, Josh and Donna Lyman, have resigned their positions as White House Chief of Staff and First Lady’s Chief of Staff to head up President Santos’s re-election campaign just goes to underline what a serious challenge the president’s reelection will be. Following West Virginia governor Ray Sullivan’s lightning win of the Republican nomination and immediate massive and effective barrage on the administration (he currently has a 14% lead over the president, according to Rasmussen), coupled with the ongoing fiscal and morale sapping drain of fighting a low intensity conflict (“Peace keeping operation”, as White House spokesperson Annabeth Schott never tires of correcting) in Kazakhstan, it would be hard to envy the embattled Democrats.
Critics within the party are quick to point to the inability of the Santos administration to get any traction from day one, starting out with a Congress that was unwilling to move on Santos’s key education and lobbying reforms (before going Republican in the mid-terms, restoring former speaker Haffley). In fact, many would argue that the only tangible (but probably longterm in terms of measure) successes of the administration would be the successful nomination of both former AG Oliver Babbish and former Bartlet White House Counsel Lionel Tribbey to the Supreme Court, joining Bartlet appointees Chief Justice Eleanor Baker Lang and Roberto Mendoza in forming a strong liberal bloc on the court.
In their defence, Team Santos will point to the calming of tensions of Kazakhstan as a major achievement, although many Republicans will claim that is due to the efforts of Secretary of State Vinick who has emerged, along with AG Ainsley Hayes as one of the few successes of the administration. It doesn’t help that both are Republicans, although the administration is happy to use both as an example of its bipartisan credentials. It should also be stressed that both the president and secretary Vinick, despite having fought a gruelling election against each other, have formed a genuinely close friendship, with the president giving serious weight to his former rival’s counsel. Vinick’s Nobel Peace Prize for his work in the region was genuinely welcomed by the president.
With Lyman deputy Sam Seaborn taking up Lyman’s former job, comment has also been made about how Santos has effectively surrounded himself with a “Bartlet mafia”. Seaborn, Lyman and his wife all served in Bartlet’s two campaigns and in his White House, and the news that former White House chief of staff CJ Cregg (wife of CNN’s Danny Concannon of The Concannon/Ziegler Report), another Bartlet inner-circler, is to take leave from the Hollis Foundation to head up communications in the campaign adds to the story. How close are these people? Both Cregg and Lyman have children named after the late Democratic party giant Leo McGarry, Bartlet’s first chief of staff, chairman of Bartlet for America, best friend, and a beloved figure amongst Bartletistas (and across the political aisle, it has to be said). Cregg will be bringing Charlie Young (Aka Mr Zoe Bartlet) and Margaret Hooper (who also has a child named after McGarry) with her from the foundation.
As if there isn’t enough of “the old band getting together”, the latest story is that legendary Democratic strategist Bruno Gianelli, who ran Bartlet’s two campaigns and then stunned liberals by crossing the floor to assist Vinick, has offered to come out of retirement for the Santos campaign, gratis. There’s a lot of anger still in the party towards Gianelli, but Lyman would be loath to turn down an offer from such a master political operator as Gianelli.
As for the former president himself? He seems to have developed a taste for the campaign trail again, having come out of retirement two years ago to campaign for his former spokesperson Will Bailey (husband of Fox News’s foreign policy analyst and former Bartlet Deputy NSA Kate Harper) in the tight Oregon 4th congressional district, a race won by the Dems, some say, in no short measure to Bartlet spending literally weeks in the district gladhandling. He also campaigned for his former Vice President Robert Russell in Russell’s successful Colorado senate bid. Incidentally, Bartlet’s other VP, disgraced former Texas senator John Hoynes, for years the assumed Man Who Will Be President, has apparently found Jesus following his second divorce after his disastrous campaign against Santos. He currently runs a drug rehabilitation and homeless shelter in downtown Dallas. Friends say that he has ruled out ever seeking office again. One remarked that “John has finally found happiness and inner contentment”.