Posted on February 2, 2009
So why would Judd Gregg want to become Commerce Secretary in an Obama Administration?
Gregg is one of the smartest and most capable Republican Senators. He is a fiscal conservative, but he also has social conservative tendencies. He exhibits Yankee thrift, a wry sense of humor, and a thoroughly grounded sense of self.
Apparently, he has cut a deal to make certain that his Senate seat is left in Republican hands should he take the job offer from President Obama. The leading candidate to replace Gregg is a Republican, but one who endorsed Obama when he was running for President.
Commerce Secretary isn’t a bad job, but it usually isn’t in the middle of the policy fray either. Commerce Secretaries of the past tended to be well-heeled campaign contributors, titans of industry who tried to meld the world of business with the world of commerce.
The Commerce Departement itself is a mish-mash of unrelated agencies. NOAA is in Commerce, as is the Census. Its mission, ostensibly, is to increase commerce in America and beyond, but you would be hard put to name one great thing for commerce that has been accomplished by the Commerce Department.
It is also unclear how the Obama Administration will actually use their cabinet agencies. He has appointed more Czars (health care, environment, energy, etc) to work inside the White House than ever worked in the Kremlin. More power in the White House means less power in the Cabinet agencies. So, will Gregg really have a seat at the table where the decisions are made or will he simply be window-dressing, trotted out whenever the new President wants to look bipartisan?
Gregg taking this job says more about the state of Republican politics than it does about the actual job or about the Obama Administration. The word on the street was that Gregg had little interest in running again for a third term in the Senate, had even less interest in running for a leadership position and had no interest in running for President (a rare trait in a Senator).
You can speculate as to why Gregg didn’t see a long-term future as a Republican Senator. Perhaps like Mel Martinez, he is tired of the partisanship and tired of the decline in decorum in the upper chamber. Or perhaps he is tired to fighting a losing cause in an area of the country that has become toxic for Republicans.
Reportedly, Gregg stood up in a Senate Republican lunch earlier this year and complained to his colleagues that their brand of conservatism was too narrow for his constituents. Gregg thinks himself (quite rightly) as the kind of conservative – one who focuses on fiscal sanity and leaves to social stuff to the preachers – who can win not only in the Northeast, but anywhere in the country.
That Gregg would leave the Senate and the Republican Party to become Commerce Secretary may be an act of self-less patriotism. But it is also a sign of the times and a signal to Republicans everywhere that they are losing ground in places, like New Hampshire, where they used to be strong and are now very weak.