At a hastily called press conference, he announced that David Gergen, a former aide to Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, would be his new image-maker.
In a move that had the whiff of panic, Mr Gergen replaced George Stephanopoulos as communications director at the White House. Mr Stephanopoulos, 32, has been moved to an adviser's job.
He was one of a group of young staffers whose performance has been attacked even by fellow Democrats. The recent fiascos over Mr Clinton's dollars 200 (pounds 130) haircut from Christophe of Beverly Hills while flights were delayed at LA airport and the attempt to replace sacked travel staff with one of the president's cousins have added to the impression of a blundering White House. An opinion poll yesterday showed that Mr Clinton's approval rating had reached 36 per cent, a new low.
There was astonishment in Washington at the appointment because, as President Reagan's communications director in 1981, Mr Gergen helped to shape and sell Reaganomics, the legacy of which Mr Clinton is trying to reverse. Mr Gergen also held jobs with presidents Ford and Nixon and he is a familiar conservative figure on the talk show circuit.
Mr Clinton, who ran for office as an outsider campaigning against the Washington 'establishment' attempted to head off criticism of his choice of a quintessential Republican loyalist. 'The message here is that we are rising above politics, we are going beyond the partisanship that damaged this country so badly in the last several years, to search for new ideas, new common ground and new national unity,' he said.
The change came as three new polls showed Clinton's popularity continuing to plummet at a faster rate than any modern predecessor. An analyst for Time magazine said Mr Clinton was now faring worse than Jimmy Carter at the same point of Carter's presidency. Mr Carter, the last Democrat in the White House, was drubbed by Ronald Reagan in 1980 after one term. 'Twice as many people have doubts about Clinton now than they did about Carter in 1977,' he said.
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