The Rahm Roulette wheel begins spinning

With Mayor Richard Daley retiring, many assume that Rahm Emanuel will leave his White House chief of staff position to run in next year’s election.  Emanuel, known more as a tough pragmatist and infighter, nevertheless helped run Barack Obama’s administration into the shoals of ObamaCare and a failed, radical economic agenda.  If Emanuel does leave, Obama’s selection for his replacement will send strong signals about the direction he will take in the second half of the term — and already some signals have come out of the White House, according to Politico, about getting a more establishment figure in Rahm’s place:

Amid mounting signs that Rahm Emanuel will leave the White House to run for mayor in Chicago, Democratic insiders say President Barack Obama is likely to choose a new chief of staff who’s already in his orbit but has experience with previous administrations.

The goal: to maintain the president’s comfort level while bringing in an outside perspective that would help mitigate the insularity of the current West Wing.

The most likely candidate may be Tom Donilon, a deputy national security adviser whose political experience goes back to the Carter-Mondale campaign. Donilon earned his chops in government as the first assistant secretary of state for public affairs under President Bill Clinton. His wife, Cathy Russell, is chief of staff to Dr. Jill Biden.

Another possible prospect is Ron Klain, chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, who has served in a string of sensitive positions, including chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore during the 1996 reelection campaign.

After the midterm bloodbath that most presume will come in eight weeks, changes in staff were inevitable anyway.  Emanuel might have had the best chance of sticking around, but clearly he sees a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in Chicago as well as an opportunity to get out of Washington while the getting is good.  He may not be the only one looking for greener pastures once Republicans start to control the agenda on Capitol Hill, either, especially among those who came out of Chicago and have little experience with, or stomach for, dealing with political opposition.

That would seem to include Valerie Jarrett, who gets a long-shot mention by Mike Allen and Josh Gerstein in this piece.  Jarrett came out of the Chicago Machine to Obama’s White House as one of his closest advisers, part of the same inner circle as David Axelrod.  However, picking an outsider like Jarrett would hardly signal a new era of cooperation with Congress regardless of which party controls it.  It would be a shot across the bow of Capitol Hill and a big signal that Obama would double down on his radical agenda in the next two years — in short, become the antithesis of the 1995-6 Bill Clinton.  Democrats looking at a tsunami in 2010 know this would mean a repeat in 2012, and could generate a serious presidential primary challenge from someone like Evan Bayh as a means of rescuing the Democratic Party from the grip of the Left.

Politico mentions Clinton-era CoS retreads like Leon Panetta, Erskine Bowles, and John Podesta, none of which seem suited for the task of a Hopeandchange presidency.  Panetta has a job for which he has fought tooth and nail at CIA and isn’t likely to want a switch back to running a presidential datebook, while Bowles has to chair Obama’s debt commission for the next few months and then defend it afterward.  Podesta moved to the Left after leaving the White House and would send a similar signal as appointing Jarrett.

The best political choice might be one of the people included in the list as an afterthought: Ed Rendell.  He has plenty of political infighting experience and is well-respected within the party.  Rendell has a much more pragmatic approach than Jarrett or Axelrod, and a better political ear than anyone currently in the White House, including Emanuel.  Pennsylvanians don’t much care for him as Governor at the moment, but he could help Obama reconnect in a state that Obama cannot afford to lose in 2012 if he wants to win re-election.  Rendell is also good with the media and can give the impression that Obama is softening his agenda in response to a big midterm loss.  And Rendell is available almost immediately, too.

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