Best: Karl Rove
The White House
Judging by his job title, senior adviser to the President, Karl Rove doesn't seem to be a manager of very much. But in reality this 54-year-old college dropout, dubbed "Bush's Brain" by biographers, was the chief executive of a hugely successful enterprise that delivered more votes for a Presidential candidate than any other in U.S. history.
Directing the 2004 reelection effort from the West Wing office once used by Hillary Clinton, the visionary behind George W. Bush Inc. developed an audacious strategic plan that disproved two political axioms: that high-turnout elections favor Democrats and that the candidate favored by most independent voters wins. How did Rove manage to turn history on its head? While Democrats were boasting of record registration of urban minorities and young people, Rove was methodically employing state-of-the-art technologies to identify and then deliver to the polls millions of social conservatives in rural areas and, most important, in fast-growing "exurbs" such as Warren County, Ohio.
While Rove concentrated on the big picture, his management team handled day-to-day operations. Campaign manager Ken Mehlman adapted the peer-to-peer business model used by Amway Corp. to enlist neighbors, church friends, fellow veterans, and gun-club buddies. And Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie made sure that state parties were awash in cash, helping to cement GOP gains in House, Senate, and governors' races.
For his efforts, Rove won the ultimate sign of endearment from the President: a new nickname, "The Architect." Not bad for someone who had never managed anything bigger than an Austin political firm before he hooked up with the man who made him famous.
Worst: Donald Rumsfeld
Even many conservatives who backed President Bush's invasion of Iraq think the Administration has botched the war. And that happened on Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's watch. While Rumsfeld had plenty of company in thinking that former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, and Rumsfeld was right that the U.S. could defeat Iraq's army with fewer troops than were deployed in Desert Storm, critics say he miscalculated the resources needed to win the peace. The price: more than 1,300 American deaths so far, thousands more injured, and a price tag sure to exceed $200 billion.
The Pentagon chief believed he could turn the keys to the country over to Iraqi exiles and slash the size of the U.S. force to 50,000 fairly quickly. But the number of troops in Iraq keeps growing, with a temporary increase announced on Dec. 1 raising the total to 150,000. Rumsfeld also dismissed State Dept. studies outlining ways to reform such Iraqi institutions as schools and hospitals. Responds Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita: "The editors of BusinessWeek (MHP ) obviously think they know more than the military commanders on the ground in Iraq, who have received every force level they have sought and have been satisfied every step of the way."
But experts say the conduct of the war wasn't Rumsfeld's only dubious call. He came into office arguing for a smaller, lighter military. Critics say Iraq shows that the U.S. in fact needs a larger Army and heavy armor for close combat in places such as Fallujah. And he displayed a less-than-deft touch when he rejected responsibility for sending ill-equipped soldiers into battle, and told troops in Kuwait: "You can have all the armor in the world on a tank, and a tank can be blown up." Rumsfeld, however, has managed to hold on to his job despite his performance.