Most of those from the early days—once-familiar names of Gibbs, Axelrod, Rouse, Emanuel, Messina, Plouffe, Favreau, and Dunn—are gone, replaced by appointees who truly are more staff than friends. Some of the new staffers worked for other candidates in 2008, such as Communications Director Jen Palmieri, who also will soon exit the White House, according to The Wall Street Journal, which said she will join the Hillary Clinton campaign.
The departures of Pfeiffer and Palmieri are just "the natural order of things that people move on," said David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist in 2008 and a senior White House adviser in the first term. He said they confirm what he was told when he first joined the White House staff. "The presidency is a marathon, but for the staff it is a relay race," he told National Journal. "When you are the president, you are still there, but the baton is being passed from staffer to staffer."
Many of the old hands remain in sporadic touch with the White House. But, especially since the 2012 campaign, that is too infrequent to replace the day-to-day, hour-by-hour contact when their offices were just down the hall from the Oval.
Axelrod said Pfeiffer's departure will be felt personally by the president but shouldn't change how the White House operates or communicates. "I'm confident that there will be folks cycled in, some old and some new, who will already have or will develop relationships with the president. Dan is leaving at a good time. I think they are doing as well now as any time I can remember in his presidency."
Having honed their communications strategy for the eight years since they launched their first campaign, the lessons of Pfeiffer will not be lost just because he is gone, said Axelrod. Staffers will continue to operate on Pfeiffer's belief, as outlined by Axelrod, that "there is no permanent bully pulpit. You have to sort of assemble it each time, piece by piece."
"Dan was there from the very beginning," said Ben LaBolt, a veteran of Obama's staffs in the Senate, at the White House and in both campaigns. "He was at the president's side on the road, on the plane as he traveled to those initial campaign events." Such campaigns, he said, "are intense, emotionally draining experiences in which strong bonds are formed."
Those bonds are even stronger because Obama appreciated that any staffers joining him in 2007 were bucking conventional wisdom. "There was a risk that people took in going to work for the Obama campaign in early 2007. Some people had called Senator Clinton the presumptive nominee," LaBolt said. "It was unclear before the first fundraising numbers were in whether there would be ... support. And there will always be a certain bond among the folks who took a risk and dove into that pool."
Pfeiffer isn't the only person Obama will miss. One longtime Obama intimate, who asked not to be named, said the resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder is particularly impactful because he was a friend before he was an adviser. He said that Obama's administration is entering a phase that befalls all second-termers. "I suspect Holder will remain a friend. No doubt, though, that the circle of close advisers is smaller now. Probably every president experiences that," he said. "Everyone else wants to get on with their lives, but the POTUS is there for the full eight." It is, he added, a "challenging" phase.