“Presidential power is the power to persuade,” observed the celebrated presidential historian Richard Neustadt, who served multiple commanders-in-chief and whose 1960 masterpiece Presidential Power (revised in 1991) remains the gold standard in understanding how the White House functions.
Far greater than any formal constitutional prerogative or military dominance, the president’s privileged position atop the American political system invests him (or her, eventually) with the unique power to influence public opinion and set policy through persuasion. Not for nothing did Theodore Roosevelt describe the White House as the bully pulpit — “bully” in the sense of impressive and capacious, not boorish or oppressive.
But if persuasion represents a president’s greatest superpower, his kryptonite can be found in disunity and squabbling at the highest echelons, as Tevi Troy skillfully demonstrates in Fight House, his engaging and, yes, persuasive study of rivalries in the 12 most recent administrations. (Troy begins his analysis with Truman, the first president to take office following the creation of the executive office of the president.)