Four years after promising to change Washington, President Obama has left everyone guessing just how much change will occur in a second term. This time, he may not want many tweaks to his senior staff or his Cabinet. But, like the past five two-term presidents, Obama will find that things never stay the same—even if he wants them to.
The president has had a fair amount of turbulence in his White House staff, including three chiefs of staff, two press secretaries, two legislative directors, and a shifting cast of senior advisers. But he has had a remarkably stable Cabinet. Only two of Obama’s 15 Cabinet posts have turned over—Defense and Commerce. And only two of his six Cabinet-level slots have seen turnover—budget director and head of the Council of Economic Advisers. But that very stability hints at the change to come in a second term. The long hours and constant stress inevitably take their toll. Few people have the stamina to last eight years.
On average in the five two-term presidencies since World War II, only one or two Cabinet officers have stayed for eight years. Bill Clinton held on to the most; five of his Cabinet secretaries stuck it out for the second term. In the Dwight Eisenhower and George W. Bush administrations, two Cabinets officers served for eight years; Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan each had one who did the full stretch. That history suggests a big turnover ahead for a reelected Obama.