George Bush is replacing Ronald Reagan's heavily scripted presidential style with a go-it-alone approach that has aides scrambling to keep up with his surprise movements.
"President on the lawn! President on the lawn! Open coverage!" a Bush press aide shouted at one point Saturday. It was a sort of warning to reporters: Here's a man who marches to the beat of his own drummer.Whereas Reagan often would look for the big "X" on a stage - the spot that aides had marked with tape or paint for him to occupy - Bush seems determined to pick his own spots.
Nowhere was the free-flowing style more apparent than in the inaugural parade that followed Bush's oath-taking on Friday. He jumped out of his limousine three times to walk and wave.
He did it again Saturday. Twice.
After thanking campaign fund-raising figures gathered at a State Department reception, Bush indicated to aides - without prior notice - that he wanted to shake some hands. Trouble was, a band of reporters and photographers stood between him and the guests.
So Bush went over to one end of the press line, and people queued up to greet him. Under the Reagan style, this would have been prearranged, or the president simply wouldn't have made it happen.
As his motorcade arrived back at the White House, Bush made what appeared to be another snap decision. Instead of going inside, he changed quickly into a casual jacket and joined his four sons and his 10 grandchildren in a South Lawn frolic that included a visit to the tennis courts and a brief period of playing catch with a football.
It was bedlam in the West Wing quarters where the White House reporters work, as the Bush aide announced the president's surprise appearance in public view on the South Lawn.
Actually, Bush indicated in an interview on the day before his inauguration that his movements would be more spontaneous than Reagan's.
Bush said he doesn't want to be "anchored down" as president and said he will make spur-of-the-moment jaunts around the White House grounds and around town - with or without reporters in tow.
He voiced skepticism over the practice in which a small "protective pool" of reporters follows the president whenever he leaves the White House - whether on official or personal business.
"I'd like to work out some understanding that the world is not going to come to a screeching halt if you don't know that I'm eating Peking duck over in Virginia," he said.
His stocky press secretary, Marlin Fitzwater, who wages a constant battle of the bulge, joked Sunday that "I haven't eaten in three days. I've been running all over the place."
Asked whether Bush had any more outings planned that day, Fitzwater said, "I wouldn't rule anything out these days."
White House chief of staff John Sununu said he thinks the Bush spontaneity will wear well.
"It's part of the excitement of the job," Sununu said on CBS' "Face The Nation." "The spontaneity of George Bush is certainly what I think is going to make this a very fun part of my life."
"I don't even think the tall fences are going to hold him in," said Craig Fuller, who was Bush's vice presidential chief of staff and co-director of the Bush transition office.