- Purchase/rental options available:
Rhetoric & Public Affairs 5.1 (2002) 188-190
[Access article in PDF]
Presidents as Candidates:
Inside the White House for the Presidential Campaign
Presidents as Candidates: Inside the White House for the Presidential Campaign . By Kathryn Dunn Tenpas. New York: Garland Publishing, 1997; pp. xxiv + 191. $54.00.
Enormous attention has been paid to presidential elections, generating a prodigious scholarship produced both by and for specialists as well as nonspecialists. Kathryn Dunn Tenpas offers a valuable look at presidential campaigns from a very particular vantage—the White House. While the elections literature, as well as that on particular presidents and campaigns, has paid careful attention to the role of the White House in orchestrating incumbent reelection efforts, Tenpas notes that surprisingly little attention has been paid to how incumbent presidents and their staffs make the shift from governing to campaigning. The very fact that electioneering has come to consume ever more of incumbent presidents' time and resources underscores the importance of this inquiry.
The book, the first in Steven A. Shull's series on Politics and Policy in American Institutions, examines seven presidential reelection campaigns from Eisenhower in 1956 to Clinton in 1996. Tenpas offers a threefold typology based on the seven cases: [End Page 188] victorious presidents (Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton), defeated presidents (Carter, Bush), and takeover presidents (Johnson, Ford). This taxonomy of outcomes organizes the analysis. Yet the chapter organization follows neither chronological nor typological form. In a more ambitious, informative, and rewarding take on the data, Tenpas takes the reader through the White House campaign process. At the outset, we learn that, since the Eisenhower years, control of the reelection campaign has shifted from party control to the White House. Tenpas then focuses on organizational shifts within the White House, juxtaposing the conflicting governance and campaigning roles, and identifies several specific structural alterations, underscoring the impact of the campaign on presidential decision making. Tenpas next turns to the respective roles of the external campaign committees and national parties, and concludes with an assessment of consequences and ten recommendations in the form of a memorandum to the next president. Undergirding this analysis are over 50 interviews with former administration and party personnel, as well as documentary research.
That the presidential campaign has come under the full control of the White House should come as little surprise. Given declining parties, a more personalized or (to use Theodore Lowi's term) "plebiscitary" presidency, the rise in executive staff resources, and the ever more intensely media-driven nature of campaigns, the White-House-centeredness trend can be taken as both a cause and an effect of contemporary political factors. The focus on the White House becomes all but inevitable given the fact that, since Nixon, the reelection campaign effectively begins the day the president takes office. Of particular note is the impact of the impending election on policy, a trend that escalates once the campaign team is in place. As a Bush aide admitted, "the politics will end up driving the policy" (78). Tenpas provides considerable evidence documenting another policy consequence of the drive for reelection—namely the upsurge in presidential pork barrel. Tenpas thus provides added evidence to dispel the notion that presidents are somehow above, or disinterested in, the pork-barrel fray.
A testament to the strength and value of this study is the set of questions that it raises. For example, Tenpas predicts an ever more politicized decision-making process, as driven by the reelection imperative. While the trend is undeniable, what about elements of presidential decision making that are driven by nonelectoral forces? How might one assess and compare policy thrusts that have clear electoral consequences (for instance, pork barrel) versus those that are imposed on the presidency from without—say, a foreign policy crisis—where the White House must weigh policy options both in terms of objective merit and in terms of possible electoral consequences (the 1979-80 Iranian hostage crisis springs to mind)? How might the Tenpas typology apply to past presidents? Might a Skowronek-style political time approach yield broader insights about...