The Legacy of Rahm Emanuel

As the combative chief of staff steps down, pundits assess his influence

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Today, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will step down to pursue a bid for mayor of Chicago. During his time at the White House, Emanuel's acidic tongue and sharp elbows made him one of the most conspicuous chiefs of staff in recent history. Here's how pundits are assessing his legacy:

  • Robert Gibbs Praises Emanuel  "His leadership, his energy has helped us accomplish so much," said the White House Press Secretary, ticking off health care reform, Wall Street reform and the economic recovery. "There is not an important thing that has happened in this administration that we've been able to accomplish for the American people that has not involved heavily his signature."

  • He Angered Liberals, notes Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post: "Liberals, in particular, expressed displeasure -- repeatedly and loudly -- about what they saw as Emanuel's tendency to settle for a half loaf on major policy fights. It was Emanuel, they argued, who pushed behind the scenes for a scaled-back version of health-care reform in the wake of Sen. Scott Brown's (R-Mass.) stunning special election victory in January. (Emanuel, for his part, denied the charge -- insisting that he supported whatever the president wanted on health care.)"
  • But Garnered Praise from Strategists, adds Cillizza. "The view of Emanuel's time in the White House is very different among campaign strategists -- the permanent group of consultants, pollsters and strategists who spend the entirety of their days working to elect Democrats up and down the ballot." He interviews longtime campaign strategist Monica Dixon who says "Rahm's presence at the White House provided peace of mind. It was comforting to know that as part of the chief of staff's skill set, there was a voice who knew from experience what it takes to raise money, do research, manage winning campaigns and tackle the challenging decisions made by the party committees."
  • He'll Go Down as a Failure, writes liberal blogger David Dayen at Fire Dog Lake: "The President de-mobilized his supporters when they were needed, and thinks he can re-mobilize them at the flick of a switch when needed for an election campaign. I see that as the legacy of Rahm... But more than anything, the legacy of Rahm is a legacy of a guy whose maneuvers always backfire. And so having that reverse-Midas touch as far away from a Democratic Administration as possible is preferable, in my book. I just won’t hold my breath about the replacements until we see some action."
  • He Couldn't Restrain Obama, writes The Wall Street Journal's conservative editorial board: "Neither he nor anyone else has been able to 'moderate' this President's leftward impulses on domestic policy. If there is one big policy idea with which Mr. Emanuel has been associated, it was his belief early on that health reform should be 'incremental.' Instead, the White House and its Congressional allies from San Francisco and Las Vegas went whole hog. We'll have to wait for Mr. Emanuel's White House memoir to learn whether he thinks ObamaCare was worth the demolition job it is about to do on his party in the Congressional elections. We suspect it won't come up much in Rahm's run for mayor of Chicago, a venue famous for a more pragmatic style of politics."
  • Mastered the 'Art of the Possible,' writes MSNBC's First Read team: " On the one hand, he played a key role in the Democrats racking up more legislative achievements than Washington has seen since the Great Society or the New Deal. His half-a-loaf-is-better-than-no-loaf approach produced big results, even if those results weren’t widely embraced by a public during a time of 10% unemployment. Rahm -- perhaps more than many pundits or chatterers in the blogosphere -- knows that politics is the art of the possible, that you take what you can get, and that enacting change is hard. Really hard."
  • Too Concerned With Fame, writes Charles Dunn at The Chicago Tribune: "When the Administrative Reorganization Commission created the White House staff and the Executive Office of the President in 1939, it stipulated that their personnel should have a 'passion for anonymity.' That is, they should place the president's interests above their own, and they should shy away from publicity that would detract from the president and his agenda. A passion for anonymity Rahm Emanuel does not have...  Historically, among presidential chiefs of staff Emanuel has had one of the highest public profiles, often detracting attention from President Barack Obama and his agenda."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.