From health care reform to unemployment to Guantanamo Bay, many Washington insiders think President Obama would be much better off today had he listened to his brash-but-practical chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. Top staffers like David Axelrod have a “strong view of the historic character Obama is supposed to be,” a supporter tells the Washington Post. But Emanuel “knows the geography better,” and is willing to do “the small, marginal things a White House could do to mitigate the problems on the Hill.”
Take Guantanamo—early on, says unlikely ally Lindsey Graham, Emanuel realized “this stuff is like flypaper,” and knew full well that attempting to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed in civilian court would poison any Republican support. “I don't think the White House has listened to him enough,” says a senior House Democrat, who bristles at the administration’s gambles on big ticket legislation when seats are vulnerable in 2010. Emanuel, always a team player despite his vigilante reputation, is playing down the attention. “When the heat is on, he shows a spirit of camaraderie,” an administration official says.