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The Transition: A Guide for the President-Elect

Sunday, October 1, 2000

Once the results of the longest campaign in American history are known, public and press attention will shift from the election to another quadrennial ritual in American politics, the transition. What the next president-elect does and doesn’t do during the 70-plus days between his election and his inauguration will have more to do with his success as president than perhaps any other decisions he will make.

Examples abound of presidents who stumbled into office because of hastily considered actions during transitions. Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter, for instance, decided early on that they would name strong individuals to their Cabinets and allow them to select all of their deputies and political subordinates. They later voiced frustration over their administrations’ failure to speak with one voice. Confusion and open conflict resulted.

Some analysts trace episodes such as Kennedy’s handling of the Bay of Pigs, Carter’s stymied energy proposals, and Bill Clinton’s slowness in filling positions to the vagaries of their respective transitions. Clinton’s declaration that he would have a cabinet that "looked like America" and his broad hint that he wanted a woman as attorney general led to speedy, if not sloppy vetting procedures, followed by rapid-fire embarrassments known as "Nannygate." His unexpected declaration that he intended to lift the ban on homosexuals openly serving in the military, before he had selected all his key defense and national security advisers, produced months of backpedaling and drew attention and time away from the rest of his agenda. Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, glided into office. His apparent self-confidence and insouciant air bespoke a man with a clear sense of how he wanted his administration to function. Thanks to advanced planning with a handful of experienced advisers, he entered office knowing how he would fill key posts and with whom, which posts would be filled in what order, how nominees would be selected, and which policies his administration would pursue first.

The days and weeks after a hard fought election are hardly optimal times for a new president to make what may be the most important decisions of his term. He and his key advisers are ecstatic, exhilarated, and exhausted. If history is any guide, they are prone to show more than a bit of hubris. Having won the biggest and toughest job in the world, most reason that nothing ahead of them can be as difficult as what they have already achieved. Eventually the reality sets in: They have little more than 70 days to name a Cabinet, organize a White House, devise a legislative strategy, place their stamp on world events, solidify relations with supporters, apprehend the difference between "recruitment" and "patronage," and learn to work with and through the Washington media. Presidents often ask themselves what their legacy will be. They should understand that it starts taking shape in the crucible of the transition.

Opportunities and perils

Those familiar with the British system of government as well as the American have long marveled at the differences in how both democracies turn over power from one government to another. In most parliamentary governments, especially the British, the process is concluded in a matter of hours. The outgoing prime minister pays a visit to the queen, submits his resignation, and either departs from public life, assumes his new post as opposition leader, or retreats to the back benches. The incoming leader, after also calling upon the queen, moves into 10 Downing Street no later than the day after the election. Everyone knows who will hold top government posts. Most have already served in "shadow" Cabinets holding portfolios similar to those they will now officially assume.

In the United States, which operates under a system of separated powers and in which the president serves as both head of state and chief of government, transitions are a more cumbersome process, and inaugurations take on much of the pageantry and solemnity of coronations, but with a distinctly democratic cast. From the time George Washington graciously made way for John Adams, transitions have symbolized peaceful turnovers of power. To populations still living under dictatorships, they showcase the best of American democracy and demonstrate the virtues of self-government. This may be what John F. Kennedy had in mind when he rightly termed the inaugural ceremony a "celebration of freedom."

Not all turnovers of power, though, proceeded as smoothly as the first. It took some time before the public display of it, at least, came off without a major hitch, controversy, or mutual embarrassment. John Adams, for instance, was so depressed at his defeat at the hands of his vice president, Thomas Jefferson, that he refused to attend his successor’s inauguration. He spent the transition, up to its final hours, trying to tie Jefferson’s hands in as many ways as possible. He rammed appointments through the lame duck Congress as fast he could, leading to the coining of a new phrase, the "midnight judge."

After Abraham Lincoln was elected president in a four-way contest with 39 percent of the vote, outgoing president James Buchanan sat idly by as state after state seceded from the union. By refusing to act, he actually may have limited the options available to his successor to two: peaceful dissolution of the nation, or war.

A similar situation arose during the transition of 1932-33. This time the incoming president demurred. Wanting to preserve his options, President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt refused to cooperate with the departing Herbert Hoover on a common strategy to combat the Great Depression. Hoover feared going it alone, lest Roosevelt later reverse him. Their frosty relationship as well as the stagnation it fostered led to passage of the Twentieth Amendment, the first provision of which shortened the transition period by advancing the date of the inauguration from March 4 to January 20.

The two principals of the next transition learned little from that experience. Angered at criticism President-elect Eisenhower had levied against his administration during the 1952 campaign, President Truman, in his congratulatory wire, offered to make the presidential plane available should Eisenhower still intend to "go to Korea." Ike, for his part, declined to visit with the Trumans en route to his inauguration.

While such bitterness is still present during transitions, it is no longer fashionable to vent it. Since 1960, both sides have taken pains to put on a common front to the rest of the world and the media. Whenever a new president has been elected, it has become customary for the outgoing and incoming chief executives to pose for photographers and pledge their full cooperation in transferring the reins of government. Two sets of advisers are named to facilitate the process. In the 70 days from election to inauguration, both sides, usually with the press echoing their words, pronounce the transition the "smoothest in history." Only after the passage of months or years will reporters and historians unravel what really transpired beneath all the spin.

Sometimes, as in the case of Ronald Reagan, advanced planning and preparation can enable a new president to, in the motto of his transition team, "hit the ground running." Reagan had been stating precisely what policies he thought were best for the country in speeches he had been delivering in two decades prior to his election. In this way, Reagan was following in the footsteps of earlier activist presidents. In his memoirs, Franklin Roosevelt’s speechwriter, Samuel Rosenman, traced dozens of "New Deal" initiatives to speeches FDR had delivered in the 1932 campaign. A generation earlier, as a means of distinguishing his "new freedom" from Theodore Roosevelt’s "new nationalism" approach to government, Woodrow Wilson’s speeches outlined tax and regulatory policies that he would later sign into law. Although an "accidental" president, Lyndon Johnson operated in a similar manner, passing tax cuts and civil rights legislation in his early months in office and preparing the country in the campaign for what later became Medicare, Headstart, and a host of other "Great Society" measures.

Reagan used his time as a candidate and as president-elect to reintroduce himself to the public and key Washington actors and the nation and to prepare them for the changes he intended to make. He also avoided some of the pitfalls other presidents have fallen into. Bill Clinton was but the latest in a series of candidates who promised to cut the size of the White House staff. Once in office, he, like they, had to choose between breaking a campaign promise or undercutting his ability to tackle the issues he wanted to address. He may have wound up with the worst of all worlds. To keep his promise, his team made most of the cuts in the "drug czar’s" office. This opened Clinton to charges that, rhetoric aside, he did not consider the office’s mission much of a priority — not a good start for a president who had said as a candidate that he had "experimented" with but not inhaled marijuana. Clinton, like several of his predecessors, wound up "detailing" personnel from government agencies to the White House to work on issues where he wished to make his mark.

Reagan breathed new life into the old adage that "people are policy," with the caveat that positions become policy through procedure. He established those procedures during the transition. Given the ceaseless demands on a president’s time and on that of his staff, this may be an administration’s last time to set them.

Successful presidents like Reagan began to do so prior to their election. Yet not all candidates have the time or the inclination to do early planning. Many, so as to avoid appearing presumptuous, are reluctant to admit even thinking about post-election issues during campaigns. This past June, both the Bush and the Gore campaigns said no when a noted columnist inquired whether anyone in their camp was working on a possible transition. Of the four men who have served as president in the past quarter century, only Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan made post-election plans while candidates. Both assigned tasks to a trusted adviser, Carter to Jack Watson; Reagan to Ed Meese.

Watson had not participated heavily in the campaign. After the election, senior campaign officials started chipping away at his plan, eventually undoing much of it. Meese, by contrast, played a senior role in the campaign while he was planning for the transition, and he saw many of his plans implemented. If there is a lesson to be learned from their experience, it would be that future presidents need to decide whom they want to oversee their transition operation from start to finish and make certain all within their operation understand the director’s intentions.

Both Watson and Meese advised their respective presidents-elect to decide early where they would spend their time during the transition, how they would answer routine congratulatory messages, and what use they would make of key advisers during the process. Questions of geography proved important to all recent transitions because they determined the atmosphere in which so many decisions take place.

Both Carter and Reagan stayed in their home states. One of the advantages Meese found in keeping the president-elect out of Washington during that period was that it enabled Reagan to avoid being seen as interfering with the work of the outgoing administration, especially in a time of ongoing crisis over hostages in Iran. Another was the likelihood of drawing less public scrutiny to the interviewing and vetting of potential nominees. John F. Kennedy, who divided his time between Georgetown, Palm Beach, and Hyannisport, joked about the problems of conducting a transition in a "fishbowl" of media scrutiny by describing how he intended to announce his choice for attorney general. He said he would open his front door at three or four in the morning and whisper, "It’s Bobby."

The experience of the past 40 years suggests that those presidents who best used their transitions to prepare them to govern effectively focused clearly and early on four major areas: process, organization, building support for their programs, and management.

A process that works

Save for those that followed the death or resignation of a president, most transitions have been one of two kinds. There have been "friendly" takeovers, those in which a president was succeeded by his vice president or another member of his party, and "unfriendly" takeovers, when the president of one party is followed by a president of another. Veterans of past transitions often refer to a third kind, a "hostile takeover." While this label cannot be applied to the Ford-to-Carter and the Carter-to-Reagan turnovers, it certainly can to that which transpired between Bush and Clinton.

Transitions have varied in the challenges they present to those participating in them. When there is a change of party, few political appointees of the outgoing administration expect to remain in their posts. President George Bush sent a letter to those he appointed, reminding them that, unless the new administration indicated otherwise, their employment terminated with the end of his term.

Mass exoduses such as these seldom occur when a sitting vice president is elected president, as was the case in 1988, and may be again this year. The "friendliness" of such transitions allows the new president the luxury of time in which to consider whom he wishes to serve where. It also presents the potential for misunderstandings and hurt feelings as people who served the former president, many of whom have worked with the incoming president and his team, and are expecting to remain, end up being replaced. A familiar complaint still heard in Republican and conservative circles is how the "Bushies fired all the Reagan people."

Aside from the partisan differences inherent in them, all transitions are similar in some respects. Immediately upon their election, presidents-elect begin deciding whom they wish to serve in their administration. They find no shortage of people willing to provide suggestions: campaign workers, political contributors, members of Congress, governors, mayors, friends and relatives, friends of relatives and relatives of friends. Thousands of unsolicited resumes also pour in.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, political parties performed tasks that are today the preserve of the Office of Presidential Personnel. They regarded most positions whose occupants served at the pleasure of the president as "patronage" and filled them in a manner reminiscent of Andrew Jackson’s spoils system. Presidents were more than happy to be relieved of the burden of placing people in jobs. That, though, was when the federal government was small both in size and in the impact it exerted over American life. As it took on more functions and its bureaucracy grew, so did the number of political appointees to oversee it and the number of hands involved in the process.

Beginning with the Kennedy administration, incoming presidents began to regard "staffing up" as more a matter of recruitment than screening. In addition to rewarding party and political service, they actively looked for talent that could help their administration.

Ronald Reagan broke new ground by retaining a professional "head hunter," Pendleton James, as director of personnel. James and his team began by putting together lists of likely cabinet and senior level officials. They also compiled lists of names of accomplished individuals who might be interested in serving in a Republican administration with a conservative orientation. At Reagan’s direction, James devised five criteria potential Reagan appointees would have to meet, among which were integrity, competence, and commitment to the president’s program. Other presidents gave their personnel directors different instructions. "Diversity" became an important watchword in the Clinton administration.

Presidents-elect have differed in how they chose political appointees at lower levels of their administrations. Kennedy, Nixon, and Carter allowed their cabinet secretaries to fill positions within their departments. Reagan, Bush, and Clinton exerted tighter control over hiring. Reagan presented cabinet secretaries with lists of names he found acceptable. The announcement that a president intends to appoint someone to a post is more of a beginning than an end to the "appointments process." There are forms to be completed, statutory ethical requirements to be met, background investigations to be done, and Senate confirmation hearings to prepare for.

C. Boyden Gray, former counsel to President Bush, advises future presidents-elect to start the "clearance" process almost immediately, by notifying the IRS and FBI of the names of the top people he intends to have in his administration even before he has decided which positions they will occupy. Such an approach carries the double advantage of speeding up the process and getting certain nominees confirmed before senators begin applying "holds" as a means of enhancing leverage. Had such a procedure been followed, many of the delays and complications that surrounded early Clinton appointees might have been avoided.

An effective organization

Among the first decisions a new president must make are those regarding who will serve as his principle aides in the White House and what kind of structure he wants to deploy to handle the flow of paper, information, and people in and out of the Oval Office. Usually the most important question a president-elect must answer is whom he wants as his chief of staff.

For almost half a century, almost every president has designated one senior adviser to organize and supervise the rest of the White House staff. Kennedy and Johnson functioned as their own chiefs of staff. Ford and Carter tried to as well. In the end, they gave up. The demands of the job had become too enormous to operate otherwise.

The nation’s earliest presidents got along with one or two "secretaries" or "clerks" to assist them. While their titles understated their roles, their primary functions were to assist the president with correspondence that came his way. The early presidential assistants were either relatives of the president (Jackson used his nephew), protégés (Meriwether Lewis in the case of Jefferson), or sons of close friends or political benefactors, such as John Hay, who was one of Lincoln’s two secretaries. Aides such as these functioned as part of president’s household and were paid with the president’s personal funds. Many, like Hay, went on to become public figures in their own right in subsequent administrations. (He served as secretary of state under McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.)

Late nineteenth and early twentieth century presidents relied on men closer to them in age and experience. They performed chores that resemble those of modern chiefs of staff and press secretaries combined. Some like George Cortelyou (McKinley), William Loeb (T. Roosevelt), Joseph Tumulty (Wilson), and C. Bascom Slemp (Coolidge) wielded considerable powers.

Historians trace the birth of the "modern presidency" to actions Franklin D. Roosevelt undertook to assert managerial control over all the agencies and programs that had proliferated under his watch. In response to a commission’s report, Congress passed legislation allowing the president to reorganize executive operations and to name six personal aides. The commission, headed by political scientist Louis Brownlow, suggested that those who would function as intermediaries between the president and department heads would "issue no orders, make no decisions, and emit no public statements" of their own. Ideal appointees, it said, "should be possessed of high competence, great physical vigor, and a passion for anonymity."

Contemporary observers recalled that when fdr read the last of these words, he "burst out laughing." A skillful bureaucratic in-fighter from his days as Woodrow Wilson’s assistant secretary of the Navy, Roosevelt anticipated that aides he entrusted with unprecedented responsibilities would not remain "anonymous" for very long. Staffers such as Harry Hopkins, "Tommy the Cork" Corcoran, Samuel Rosenman, and Robert Sherwood became figures of influence and press attention, even though their power was derivative.

Roosevelt prevented his aides from building up fiefdoms by dividing responsibilities among his staff and awarding them overlapping jurisdictions. If there was a "first among equals," it was Harry Hopkins. Harry Truman functioned in a similar fashion, with Clark Clifford playing the Hopkins role. He came to depend on certain cabinet secretaries, such as Secretary of State George C. Marshall, whose knowledge and experience exceeded his own.

Dwight D. Eisenhower brought order, organization, and institutionalization to White House operations. "Organization cannot make a genius out of an incompetent," he would say, but "disorganization can scarcely fail to result in inefficiency and can easily lead to disaster." Many of his innovations have became permanent fixtures of Washington life. Eisenhower was the first to make full use of the elevated post of special assistant to the president for national security and a staff secretary to oversee the flow of National Security Council paperwork. He established the first Office of Congressional Relations, the Cabinet secretary to plan cabinet meetings and see that decisions were carried out, and the position of science advisor.

To direct the White House operation, Ike named former New Hampshire Gov. Sherman Adams "assistant to the president." His primary function was to supervise the rest of the White House and oversee the flow of paperwork, leaving the president free to concentrate on issues he felt deserved the most of his attention. White House operations became so "routine" under Eisenhower that, by the time he left office, stand-up comedians were joking about whether Ike or Adams was actually president — or whether it was any longer necessary to have one.

John F. Kennedy had a different operating style. He functioned as his own "chief of staff," in the parlance of presidential historian Richard Neustadt. Kennedy wanted no one in his entourage to grab as much power as had reverted to Adams. Kennedy’s inner circle likened the system they had in place to a wheel with the president at the hub and advisors emanating out from there as the spokes. Ford and Carter later attempted to reproduce that model, but failed to make it work. Another Kennedy innovation was the centralization of policy within the Executive Branch inside the White House. This established in the public mind a direct connection between the president and the rest of the growing federal government.

Richard Nixon reverted to the system he had so closely observed as Eisenhower’s vice president. He entered office wanting a strong chief of staff along lines established by Adams. His methods of operation, though, differed from those of his former boss in three respects, each of which contributed to the collapse of his presidency.

Eisenhower liked to work through his Cabinet and preferred getting information in oral briefings at which he could ask questions. He and Adams designed a structure that allowed him to spend much time in such settings. Nixon preferred to work alone. He spent much of his time poring over written materials and writing lengthy memoranda. He did not like conflict and avoided situations in which it might arise in his presence. He used his chief of staff as a shield to isolate him from people and situations. Nixon directed Haldeman to carry out detailed instructions in the manner in which he intended.

The memory of Haldeman, like that of Adams a generation earlier, prompted later presidents to dispense with a chief of staff. So did the circumstances that led to the two chiefs’ fall from grace. (Adams resigned amid charges that he had used his influence to obtain favorable treatment from the irs for a friend in return for gifts. Haldeman would serve time in prison for his role in the Watergate scandals.) A similar reaction set in after the departures of two future chiefs of staff, Donald Regan (under Reagan) and John Sununu (under Bush).

Ford started off with nine assistants all reporting directly to him. Eventually, he retained Donald Rumsfeld to "coordinate" policy and personnel and to take hold of Ford’s schedule. When Richard B. Cheney succeeded him, he took on the previously retired "chief of staff" title. Cheney quickly established himself as an honest broker with no agenda of his own. He consciously adopted a "soft sell" manner, in direct contrast with the heavy-handed ways of Adams and Haldeman. In the spirit of Eisenhower, Cheney made sure that all who had an interest in a particular policy were consulted before the president acted.

Jimmy Carter began his term with eight aides reporting directly to him. Midway through, after delivering what became known as the "malaise" speech (after which he replaced half his Cabinet), Carter named his close aide, Hamilton Jordan, chief of staff. Jack Watson later succeeded him

Students of the presidency regard the methods of operation that Ronald Reagan adopted during his first term and that Bill Clinton put in place from his eighteenth month in office through his reelection as the most conducive to achieving presidential goals. The two systems differed in one important respect. Reagan chose to have a "troika" of three trusted advisers at the helm of his White House operation, whereas Clinton had a strong, but widely respected, chief of staff, Leon Panetta, operating in a mode reminiscent of Cheney. Though the duties of Reagan aides James A. Baker, Edwin Meese, and Michael Deaver varied — with Meese responsible for policy, Deaver for the president’s image, and Baker for paper flow, scheduling, and personnel — it soon became apparent that as titular chief of staff, Baker too would function in traditional and anticipated ways. Both Baker and Panetta were seasoned Washington insiders, an experience they shared with other successful chiefs of staff before and since. Baker had held top positions in the previous two Republican administrations; Panetta had chaired the House Budget Committee and was Clinton’s first director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Building bridges

No president can hope to enact an agenda without public support. That support can translate into votes in the legislature and cooperation within bureaucracies. In order to obtain it, presidents have to have a clear and concise message as well as ways to communicate effectively to the public through the prevailing media. They also need to consider during their transitions how they will do that and to what degree the requirements of office are different from those of the campaign trail.

In the early days of the republic, that one-woman public relations operation, Dolley Madison, used her widely reported soirees as occasions to sell her husband’s proposals. George Washington, James Monroe, and Andrew Jackson endured the inconveniences of traveling by coach to different parts of the country to develop a rapport with the public. Later presidents and all of the modern ones have tried similar methods to talk to the public "over the heads" of the Washington press "establishment."

While several presidents had help in drafting speeches, addresses, and correspondence, Warren Harding was the first to retain someone whose primary responsibility was as a ghostwriter. Although he worked for the president, Justin Welliver stayed on the payroll of one of the departments.

Franklin D. Roosevelt dropped this pretense when he established a new position at the White House for speechwriter Samuel Rosenman. Prior to World War II, this New York state judge had written for Roosevelt as a volunteer. When he came on board full time, he carried with him the newly created title "counsel to the president." Playwright Robert Sherwood later came in to assist him. The two worked in conjunction with Roosevelt’s principal aide, Hopkins.

Roosevelt took an active role in the development of his speeches. He met with his writers often to set the direction and tone for his remarks and proved a skillful editor. To Roosevelt, speeches were both an opportunity to explain what he was doing in ways designed to attract support and occasions to forge policy within his administration. Because those who wrote them were involved in the policy process, they were able to develop clear and consistent themes. This pattern continued through several administrations, cresting with the synergistic relationship John F. Kennedy enjoyed with senior advisor and principal speechwriter Theodore C. Sorensen. It went into eclipse when Richard Nixon submerged the speechwriting function under the wider umbrella of "outreach and communications," but re-emerged somewhat under Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Both understood how precise language could help persuade others of the merits of their proposals.

With the advent of the electronic age, presidents had to invest less personal energy to attract attention. The taciturn and less assertive Calvin Coolidge took to the airwaves often, to try to make his voice as recognizable to the public as those of popular entertainers. Franklin D. Roosevelt, through his "fireside chats," went a step further by creating the impression that he was "conversing" with his audience rather than reading formal addresses. John F. Kennedy showed similar mastery over the newer medium of television. The press conferences he pioneered gave audiences a chance to see the president "think in public." Sometimes, reporters functioned as "straight men" there to unleash the latest presidential witticism.

Of those who followed Kennedy in office, Ronald Reagan was the most effective communicator. He was able to move public and world opinion in his direction through repetition of a well-crafted and articulated message through a variety of media. Through careful scheduling and the imposition of discipline, he drove much of the national agenda during his eight years in office.

One question the next president’s experience may answer is whether it is possible for any president — even one with Reagan’s skills — to replicate Reagan’s success, given the changing communications environment. When Kennedy asked for air time, there were only three networks. In Reagan’s there were four. In an era of multiple cable stations and the Internet, more and more people can tune presidents out. Presidents, like entertainers, must fight for ratings and can no longer be assured of free time. The 24-hour news cycle, some say, compels presidents to make more news. This subjects them to risks both of overexposure and of dramatizing the trivial.

Managing the government

Critical to the success of any presidency is the ability of the president to see that the rest of the executive branch faithfully executes the law and carries out his administrative directives. He also has to take care to assure that the wheels of government turn as he intends them to.

As the head of the executive branch, the president presides over an extensive enterprise of agencies that perform vital functions and often have overlapping jurisdictions. Most presidents, even one as prone to pore over management manuals as Jimmy Carter, pronounced the managerial aspects of government "boring." President Franklin D. Roosevelt had a sense of humor about such matters, as he expressed in a memo to his budget director:

I agree with the Secretary of the Interior. Please have it carried out so that fur-bearing animals remain in the Department of the Interior.

You might find out if any Alaska bears are still supervised by a) War Department, b) Department of Agriculture, c) Department of Commerce. They have all had jurisdiction over Alaska bears in the past and many embarrassing situations have been created by the mating of a bear belonging to one Department with a bear belonging to another Department.

P.S. I don’t think the Navy is involved, but it may be. Check the Coast Guard. You never can tell.

In a more serious vein, Eisenhower unleashed his famous temper at an army general who gloated at the Navy Vanguard missile’s failure to perform. One goal he never realized was ending interservice rivalries by merging their several branches into one.

The United States government employs millions of people; oversees a vast empire of buildings, property, and land; funds and often conducts research; issues millions of dollars’ worth of contracts; and is a major purchaser of goods and services. Poor administration and oversight can, at the extreme, endanger national security. Incompetence or corruption can erode public confidence in an administration.

As they discharge the managerial responsibilities of the presidency, presidents must strike a balance between the career civil servants who have the professional training and institutional memory to perform tasks assigned them, and the political appointees who oversee them. They must also ensure, as Reagan did and Nixon and Carter did not, that those they appoint work to advance the president’s interests.

All this requires making maximum use of persuasion and incentives that encourage mutual cooperation and loyalty. It also involves bringing to government management tools and practices that have proved effective in the private sector. This may prove exceptionally difficult, given the vested interests that have a stake in the status quo and the ability of opponents of change to make their voices heard at congressional inquiries and in the media.

The edge

Presidents and presidents-elect always have one key tool at their disposal: the aura of their office. Americans generally respect the institution of the presidency, the office itself, and the person elected to it. The president-elect is a popular figure whom Americans wish well, not least for their own sake.

But the aura is not enough. It can dissipate rather quickly. What successful presidents have known how to do is to lend that aura to their own skills as motivators — of their senior staff, of the bureaucracy, of the American people themselves. The presence of this quality is what most distinguishes a Jefferson from an Adams, a Roosevelt from a Hoover, and a Reagan from a Carter. Those who have achieved the most in office have been the ones who came into office the best prepared — in other words, those who made the maximum use of their transitions.