Out of the West: Will the elusive Pimpernel Jim pull it off again?

WASHINGTON - Pondering the presidential campaign this week, a half-forgotten verse began to haunt me:

We seek him here, we seek him there,

Those Frenchies seek him every where.

Is he in Heaven? - Is he in Hell?

That damned elusive Pimpernel.

Substitute the White House Press corps and the the former US Secretary of State and there you have it - the current minor mystery of the election season: where on earth is James Baker?

If the polls are to be believed, that emblem of America's ancien regime George Herbert Walker Bush is already all but trussed up in the tumbril carrying him towards political decapitation on 3 November. By common consent, the President's chances of avoiding such a fate depend on a single individual, his old friend Jim Baker, recalled to the White House exactly a month ago today. Mr Baker after all had done it before, in 1988; times are tougher this year, but the maestro surely could pull it off again. And some suspect the latter-day Pimpernel may yet be putting the final touches to a stunning rescue plan. Right now, though, he has, to all intents and purposes, vanished.

He gives no interviews and does not accompany the President to campaign engagements. The reporters who do have begun to use the disappearing act to liven up their pool reports for colleagues on the regular press plane.

'Baker came back and briefed your pool aboard Air Force One. Not]' read one on last week's Western swing by Mr Bush, couched in today's voguish California-speak.

Invisibility, of course, has done nothing to dent the mystique of Washington's smoothest operator in decades. He has been associated with many successes, but never have his fingerprints been found within a hundred miles of a disaster. And the pattern continues. Since Mr Baker took over, the President's campaign has acquired a modicum of purpose and commonsense.

Who was it who halted the counterproductive Republican rhetoric about family values? Jim Baker, naturally. Who despatched Mr Bush so swiftly to Florida after Hurricane Andrew? For the cognoscenti, the answer went without saying: Mr Baker.

But if his precise physical whereabouts are so hard to pin down, his spiritual whereabouts are not. The elusive Pimpernel of 1992 cannot be a happy man. He must in fact be enduring something pretty close to hell. Our hero likes to keep his hands clean. He never wanted to leave the State Department, and who could blame him?

Diplomacy with its measurable achievements is obviously far preferable to the rigours of an uphill re-election campaign, with not the slightest guarantee of ultimate victory. His relationship with the President is a study in mutual dependency. It may be argued that his tactical acumen secured Mr Bush the presidency.

Equally, without George Bush James Baker would not have been Secretary of State. So when the summons came in August, he had no choice but to comply.

At this point, all mystery disappears. With consummate skill Mr Baker is making the best of a bad job. The handful of close personal aides he took with him have long since been putting the word around that the mess they discovered was even worse than they imagined (subtext: 'Our man is not superhuman; if Bush loses, it won't be Jim's fault').

Hence, if the campaign continues to flounder, the Baker vanishing act will continue. Seek him here, seek him there - the next confirmed sighting will probably be back in his law practice in his native Houston next January, as if the distasteful postscript to his Washington career had never happened at all.

But if his master, against the odds, suddenly starts to look a winner? It is a safe bet that Pimpernel will break cover at last. Coolly and graciously, as is his wont, he will receive his plaudits from the talkshow pundits. And, who knows, even the reporters on Air Force One will be granted an audience. Jim Baker, in short, will have done it again.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people

Harry Potter actor suffered 'severe flu-like symptoms' on a flight from London to Orlando

Sport
Kim Sears is reported to have directed abuse at Berdych
tennis
News
news

Rap music mogul accused of running two men over in his truck

News
Gywneth Paltrow proposed that women seek out a special herbal steam-treatment service
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Frank Turner performing at 93 Feet East
musicReview: 93 Feet East, London
News
Toronto tops the charts across a range of indexes
news

World cities ranked in terms of safety, food security and 'liveability'

Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Arts and Entertainment
tv

First full-length look is finally here

Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
Tax now accounts for ‘nearly 80%’ of the price of a bottle of whisky
news

Arts and Entertainment
Peppa Pig wearing her golden boots
film

"Oink! Oink! Hee hee hee!" First interview with the big-screen star

Life and Style
tech

Biohacking group hopes technology will lead people to think about even more dystopian uses

Arts and Entertainment
film
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Film director Martin Scorsese
film
News
news

The party's potential nominations read like a high school race for student body president

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Continuous Improvement Manager

£41500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...

Recruitment Genius: Data Entry Administrator

£10670 - £16640 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: Regional Gas Installation Manager - South East England

£36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Regional Gas Installation Manager is r...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service and Breakdown Engineer - South East

£29000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Service and Brea...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee