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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Gregg Deal: Annoying the GOP

I think I’d go a step farther than J.P. Green’s cautious optimism about the Gregg appointment in the post just below.
President Obama’s appointment of Gregg to head the Department of Commerce is a fairly remarkable feat of political deal making, and the compromise that appears to have been worked out speaks well for everyone involved:
Obama appoints another Republican to his Cabinet, Gregg gives up his seat in the Senate to work for a president he didn’t support, Democratic New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch has indicated that he will reach across the aisle appoint a long-time Republican to fill the position, and if, as rumored, that appointment is Bonnie Newman then she will agree to serve out the term and then step aside so that the people of New Hampshire have an open field to choose from in 2010.
Politically, for Democrats there’s a lot to like. It’s a tangible effort that Obama and company can point to when asked what they’ve done to change the tone in Washington. For New Hampshire, Gregg might represent the most conservative vote the GOP could hope for. Even if Lynch doesn’t appoint a Democrat, whoever serves out Gregg’s term will likely spend a lot of time voting with the Obama administration. And in 2010, we’ve got an open seat to contest instead of an incumbent to beat.
If you need further convincing, look at the extent to which this move has Republicans annoyed.
Patrick Ruffini is a smart, young, tech-savvy GOP activist who, together with Soren Dayton and Jon Henke, created The Next Right last year to be a gathering point for activists looking to build a new Republican Party. I don’t read as many conservative blogs as I did during the 2008 campaign cycle, but I continue to check out The Next Right every day because it offers a lot of insight into the thinking of those who represent the future of the GOP.
In a post yesterday under the headline, “Republicans Should Drive a Hard Bargain on Gregg,” Ruffini suggests that the GOP should make every effort to stop this appointment unless certain conservative conditions are met:

First, we must frame this as an astonishing partisan power grab. President Bush had the opportunity to nominate Louisiana Democrat John Breaux as Energy Secretary in 2001, thus flipping the seat, but didn’t — leaving the Senate at 50-50 and vulnerable to a Democratic takeover, which as we all know, actually happened.
Second, we need to insist not only that Gov. Lynch appoint a Republican, but that he appoint a Republican from a list of three candidates prepared by Republican leaders in the legislature and the New Hampshire Republican Party — preferably a strong Republican who would run in 2010. Gregg was about as conservative as you get for New England, and any replacement selected by a Democrat is almost guaranteed to be worse.

Neither one of these suggestions makes much sense.
Republicans can try to frame the appointment as a power grab, but my guess is that most Americans are going to see Obama picking a Republican for his administration and a Democratic governor choosing a Republican to fill the seat, even though he’s under no legal obligation to do so. On this point, the GOP is welcome to take Ruffini’s advice, but it is almost certain to be a tough sell.
Ruffini’s second suggestion, if anything, is worse. Aside from Sen. Gregg himself (who could always change his mind), Republicans have no power to insist on any conditions for this appointment. They don’t control the legislature or the governor’s mansion. There is no law on the books in New Hampshire dictating that partisan considerations be made for an appointments. And they don’t have the votes to block Gregg’s confirmation in the Senate (keep in mind, without Gregg, they only hold 40 seats in the chamber).
And by the way, the Bush-Breaux analogy that Ruffini raises is totally off: Bush didn’t appoint Breaux as Energy Secretary because Breaux wasn’t interested in the job, not because Bush was a principled bipartisan man who feared upsetting the partisan balance of the Senate.
If activists like Ruffini want to reinvent the GOP, they have every right to insist that Republicans be focused on conservative principles, and they should demand accountability from their elected officials and party leaders. But Republicans are in the minority at every level of government. That requires that they be a bit more careful about choosing their battles.

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