At the George W. Bush campaign headquarters in Austin, Texas, in 1999, policy director Josh Bolten was a low-key Washingtonian in a building full of brash Texans. He assembled a best-and-brightest team with résumés bristling with brand names like his own--Princeton, Stanford, Goldman Sachs. "He used to brag that he had all these Supreme Court clerks from Harvard working for him," recalled a campaign veteran. Bolten was happy to let others preen in meetings while he waited to make a killer point at the end. He has thrived by showing, very quietly, that he is indispensable. Now as President Bush's second chief of staff, he is suddenly in the spotlight. Last week he appeared before large groups of worried aides in a White House theater, where Bush occasionally holds press conferences, to convince them that a few discomfiting changes, along with a lot of harder, smarter work, could turn around a second term that has disappointed so many of them.
"We have a thousand days to get the job done," he said, according to attendees. The rearranging of staff in the Administration, which has included moving out some loyalists from Texas and is likely to continue, reflects the President's insistence that Bolten rethink an enterprise that had a series of horrible quarters. The real deadline is not 1,000 days from now, when Bush leaves office. The marker that is uppermost in the minds of Bush's inner circle is Nov. 7, when Republicans could lose control of the House and even the Senate. "If we don't keep Congress, there won't be a legacy," said a presidential adviser. "The legacy will be investigations and fights over Executive privilege" with newly empowered Democrats.
So the White House is now on a survival footing, and Bolten is essentially planning a six-month campaign that will not only prevent a Republican hemorrhage in the fall but might even produce accomplishments for Bush in his lame-duck years. The new chief recognizes that he needs to show results quickly, since aides have claimed to be rebooting the second term so many times (at least three, by TIME's count) that even their allies have lost track. The revamps have come every few months and then been hit by unexpected crises like the uproar a proposal to let a Dubai company operate some key U.S. ports.