HOUSTON - The warm-up last night was the Republicans' one remaining superstar, Barbara Bush, writes Rupert Cornwell. Tonight, however, her husband takes to the convention podium to deliver, arguably, the most important speech of his career - explaining to his party and the country why he deserves a second term. Yesterday, with polls showing him still trailing between 10 and 20 points behind his Democratic opponent, Bill Clinton, the President was putting the final touches to his acceptance address. But in a move to fire the troops and reinforce his 'change' credentials, Mr Bush has signalled a radical overhaul of his cabinet if re-elected.
In a second-term administration there would be 'a lot of new faces', he promised in a television interview. Although his spokesmen insist no firm decisions have been taken, among those considered virtually certain to go are his much-criticised economic troika: the Treasury Secretary, Nicholas Brady; the Budget Director, Richard Darman, and his chief economic adviser, Michael Boskin.
According to the Washington Post yesterday, Mr Bush hopes to persuade James Baker, the former Secretary of State now in charge of his campaign, to become an all- powerful 'economic and policy czar'. Mr Baker, however, is said to be resisting the pressure.
Other victims of any purge could include his interior and energy secretaries. Jack Kemp, the Housing Secretary, who has sometimes openly differed with the President, appears to be safe. Yesterday Mr Kemp, widely believed to be planning his own 1996 White House bid, made clear that he would not step down voluntarily.
Democrats scorned the mooted shake-up as a crude effort by Mr Bush to escape blame for neglecting domestic policy. 'This is a stunning admission of failure,' Mr Clinton said yesterday.
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