Title

Spokes, Pyramids, and Chiefs of Staff: Howard H. Baker, Jr. and the Reagan Presidency

Date of Award

5-2008

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Political Science

Major Professor

Michael R. Fitzgerald

Committee Members

John M. Scheb II, William Lyons, E. Grady Bogue

Abstract

One of the most compelling areas of research when considering the modern presidency is the role of the White House chief of staff (COS) and the direct impact it has on the presidency. The office of the president’s chief of staff is often referred to as the power behind the throne. Chiefs of staff exercise great authority and control within the White House Office (WHO) functioning as a filter or gatekeeper strictly controlling the access of information and people reaching the president. The COS is also one of the president’s closest advisers. James Baker, former chief of staff for Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush has stated the White House chief of staff is the second most powerful job in government. However, the position has commanded relatively little attention from presidential scholars. Nevertheless, understanding this component of the modern White House is important if we are to better explain why some presidencies are more effective than others. This study focuses on the chief of staff and how the office functions within the organizational and managerial structure of the White House as a key to understanding the effective operation of the modern presidency.

Specifically the study considers Howard H. Baker, Jr. and his tenure during the Ronald Reagan presidency. Relatively little research has been conducted exploring Baker’s tenure as COS, yet the Reagan presidency experienced a major transformation during this period – going from an administration in serious trouble to a stable presidency with high approval ratings. A closer study of the transformation process may provide a better understanding of the impact the COS has on the presidency. The study finds strong support for the thesis that the White House chief of staff is a critically important component within the modern presidency and has a direct impact on the president and the potential effectiveness of his administration. Howard Baker’s tenure as COS clearly demonstrates the dramatic changes chiefs of staff can produce within a presidency. In Baker’s case the impact was both substantial and positive in the rescue and rehabilitation of the Reagan presidency.

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