The White House

Recriminations abound over President Bush's sagging poll numbers and the embarrassing defeat of Dick Thornburgh in the Pennsylvania Senate race. And the wrath of Republicans in and out of the Administration is aimed squarely at White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu and Budget Director Richard G. Darman. "It's nothing but Darman and Sununu intimidating everybody," grumbles one senior White House aide. "Anybody who speaks up gets their head chopped off." Adds another GOP strategist: "The White House has turned the domestic agenda over to two guys who know 16 blocks of Washington and think they know politics."

Darman and Sununu teamed up with Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady to put the kibosh on plans for a quickie tax cut this fall. Now, insiders say, the duo is discouraging talk of new domestic initiatives until January's State of the Union speech. Then, the Administration will unveil its own tax and health care proposals. The President seems committed to waiting. "I like to handle these things in an orderly way," he said at a recent meeting.

Trouble is, many political aides see the risks of inaction as large and growing. A new Times Mirror poll shows Bush's approval rating down to 55% -- 20 points below last spring's readings. Bush runs a dead heat against an unnamed Democratic challenger, though he beats all the big names.

The White House isn't totally ignoring the unhappiness with Bush's lack of a domestic program. Except for his delayed tour of Asia in December or January, the President plans no further foreign travel in the first half of 1992. And in what may be a sop to action-hungry conservatives, Bush has allowed Housing Secretary Jack F. Kemp to continue criticizing the decision not to seek a tax cut this year. But these modest steps won't be enough to calm growing GOP jitters. Watch for the infighting to intensify.