President-elect George Bush should be grateful that he can select the White House chief of staff entirely on his own without getting the Senate's approval.
If this appointment required confirmation like other such powerful posts do, the selection Thursday of John H. Sununu just might not pass muster on Capitol Hill.The big strikes against Sununu, who is completing three two-year terms as governor of New Hampshire, are that he lacks Washington experience, has a needlessly abrasive management style, and has antagonized the politically powerful Jewish community.
Though these handicaps cannot be blinked away, they need not be fatal to Sununu's effectiveness as chief of staff - if he knows when to be tough and when to be conciliatory.
The main qualification of the chief of staff is the full confidence of the president he serves - and that Sununu seems to have even though, unlike other recent Bush appointees, he is not a longtime friend of the President-elect.
Moreover, Sununu has outstanding credentials as a conservative. As governor of New Hampshire, he left a big mark on state government, where he is credited with turning a budget deficit into a surplus. He is known for taking strong stands on controversial issues, then sticking by them.
While Washington experience would be useful to Sununu, it is not an absolute necessity. Since Sununu has repeatedly proved his own prowess as a vote-getter, that should give him plenty of stature in dealing with members of Congress and other political leaders.
Sununu antagonized Jews by becoming the only governor who refused to condemn a United Nations proclamation equating Zionism with racism. The excuse given by Sununu, who is partially of Lebanese descent, is that he considers it improper for governors to try to influence foreign policy. That's rather lame excuse, since just about everyone else tries to influence foreign policy. But surely this wound can be healed if Sununu is reasonably sensitive and adroit.
Unhappily, diplomacy does not seem to be one of his leading assets. Though Sununu is known to be fair, energetic, and highly intelligent, he also has a reputation for arrogance and a short-temper. Some Bush aides are also nervous about Sununu's ability to delegate authority.
If there is anything the White House does not need, it is another imperious Donald Regan controlling access to the president and taking a key role in relations between the Oval Office and Congress. As a governor, John Sununu demonstrated a marked capacity for growth. He will need to keep on growing as he moves to Washington.