George W. Bush has neither written nor talked much about his management style. He does not spend much time in self-reflection. Whether he’s running Oval Office meetings or frenetically clearing brush at his ranch, he is a man of action. As I wrote this book, there were few inside accounts of how the president managed the White House, and those accounts that did exist clearly had the stamp of individuals trying to spin the story to their own advantage.
That means the portrait of Bush’s style has been woven together from a pastiche of interviews, campaign narratives, biographical portraits, and newspaper accounts. Bush’s campaign autobiography, A Charge to Keep (New York: HarperCollins, 1999), is a revealing first-person account of the president’s journey to the White House. But it also has some remarkable gaps. Bush, for example, devotes just a few pages to the tragic death of his sister when he was a young boy. He spends less than three pages on his days at the Harvard Business School. The book is filled more with a sense of his values—and where they come from—than on how he does his job. That itself is revealing about Bush and his style, since so much of his approach to Team Bush comes from the values that drive his life.
When Bush first launched his presidential campaign, Texas Monthly devoted the entire June 1999 issue to articles about Bush and his background. The magazine remains one of the most in-depth portraits of Bush before he moved to the White House, and vignettes from these articles continue to appear in newspaper stories.
For the Bush presidential years, the White House’s Web site at www.whitehouse.gov is the foundation for research. It details Bush’s speeches and comments, and its search engine is remarkably powerful. However, given Bush’s penchant for malapropisms, the White House press office increasingly scrubbed the official version to ensure consistency in the message. Newspaper reporters delighted in finding and publishing more colorful versions than the official one, so press accounts have often provided useful supplemental portraits.
Texas’s special brand of politics has also nourished an unusual breed of political journalist. Molly Ivins is surely one of the most lively, and her entertaining book, Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush (with Lou Dubose, New York: Vintage Books, 2000) is part keen political insight and part Texas rodeo. In Ambling into History: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush, New York Times reporter Frank Bruni captured his time traveling the campaign trail with candidate Bush. Together they help chart the road from Austin to the White House.
As useful as written sources are, there is nothing quite like watching the man in action. HBO’s 2002 documentary, Journeys with George, is a fascinating film charting the Bush 2000 presidential campaign from its first days to victory. NBC News producer Alexandra Pelosi carried a video camera aboard the press campaign and caught remarkably fresh and uncensored moments of the candidate in action.
The film’s first photography credit went to George W. Bush, who occasionally grabbed the camera and turned the tables on Pelosi and her fellow reporters. Bob Woodward’s in-depth study of the way Bush waged the first months of the war against terrorism, Bush at War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002), provides an invaluable portrait of the president at work in some of the toughest and darkest days a president has faced in a generation. In The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush (New York: Random House, 2003), David Frum provides a useful inside account as one of Bush’s former speechwriters.
Understanding the way Team Bush works is one part Bush’s style. But it’s also two parts context. Bush is only the latest leader to confront the challenges of running the world’s largest and most powerful organization, and understanding how his style and approach differs from other presidents is critical to my book’s approach. Political scientists have explored these issues for years, and these books proved most useful in writing the book: Stephen Hess, Organizing the Presidency, 3rd ed. (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2002); and Charles O. Jones, Passages to the Presidency: From Campaigning to Governing (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1998). George Stephanopoulos’s inside account of the Clinton administration, All Too Human: A Political Education (Boston: Little, Brown, 1999), provides a valuable base for comparison.
Whether watching films of candidate Bush or reading about him, one fact is clear. Even though Bush has worked at the center of an increasingly large and sophisticated apparatus, Bush himself has been remarkably the same man. The nation changed after September 11, but Bush did not. If any
thing, he became more of what he had already been: a leader who drew on his own sense of values to make strong, determined decisions. He built around him a team to help him do what he wanted to do, and that is the story of Team Bush.