Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ideology and partisan pressure rivals 'team of rivals' strategy

Judd Gregg's withdrawal of his prior acceptance for Commerce Secretary in the Obama administration is all the rage amongst the political prognosticator class today. But for those who really think this is Big News should ask themselves how much political hay was made of Bill Richardson's withdrawal from this same post. The answer? About 1.5 days.

Of course, this is different than Richardson's withdrawal. Gregg was a controversial pick from the get go, from both liberal and conservative perspectives. The only way Gregg's nomination could have possibly made sense was from the symbolic perspective -- i.e., having an true blue fiscal conservative oversee the fiscal restraint Obama has called for in his own administration. This strategic brand alignment is the kind of high-minded marketing that Obama likes. And while it's clear what Obama was trying to demonstrate with Gregg as Commerce Secretary, it was equally clear to many (including, eventually, Gregg) that it was too much of a tactical stretch to reach a strategic goal.

As Gregg's departure indicates, high-minded marketing and cross-party strategic alliances is clearly not a popular sport in Washington. Combine this with the political rancor around the stimulus bill, and it's clear that Obama is going to continue to have a difficult time finding soul-mates in pragmatism in a system that has been increasingly rewarding ideologues and party loyalists for decades.