Gregg claims that he made a mistake, and couldn't quite square his position on the stimulus and the census with that of the administration. This is odd, because Obama's position on the stimulus has not changed in any substantive way, and the census should not be a big political issue. We have been conducting a census every ten years for literally centuries. We should be good at it. Of course, since so much hangs on the census, like representation in Congress, funding for various projects, etc., it's not that simple, but still, it should not have been a deal breaker for Gregg.
Obama may be a little more reluctant to be reach out to Republicans, but I think his bipartisan instincts will mostly remain intact. He deserves credit for nominating Gregg, and Obama and his folks did absolutely nothing wrong with this nomination. He treated the man with respect, and I think he'll get credit for that. Gregg is the one who looks indecisive. One factor may have been that being a senator is very different from running a Cabinet agency. Maybe Gregg just didn't realize how much administration and management was involved; the Senate is much more about policy.
Rumors are swirling that Gregg was taking a fair amount of heat from other Republicans, particularly in New Hampshire. But he has apparently decided not to run for reelection in 2010, so it's not clear why that pressure from Republicans would have made such a crucial difference.
This is Obama's fourth nominee to withdraw, but at least we don't have a John Tower on our hands. John Tower was a Republican senator from Texas who was nominated to be Defense Secretary in George H. W. Bush's administration. He was plagued by accusations of alcoholism, conflicts of interest, and misbehavior towards women. His nomination made it all the way to the full Senate, where he was rejected, 53-47 (Democrats had a majority at the time). John Tower was the quintessential good old boy, and his rejection was healthy for democracy. I found one very interesting comment in the NY Times article about the vote:
In defending Mr. Tower, some senators warned their colleagues that the intense focus on alcohol and women, the subjects that dominated the six days of Senate debate, was raising new and dangerous standards of behavior.Can we live up to the standards of not nominating for Cabinet positions people who are misogynist alcoholics with ethically sloppy attitudes towards conflicts of interest? Yes we can. Yes we have. Compared to John Tower, Tom Daschle was a Boy Scout. Standards are constantly being raised. That's one reason people get caught by them; behavior that was once acceptable, or at least not damning, becomes unacceptable.
''The question is going to be asked of senators when they go out and start running for office,'' said Senator Steve Symms, Republican of Idaho. ''What's in your F.B.I. file? Can we really live up to the standards that have been set up here?''
That vote on Tower took place on March 10, 1989, which was almost two months into Bush's administration. Every administration has problems getting started, in part because it's such a huge job. There is nothing like it in the world. In a week or a month or two, Obama will have a Commerce Secretary, and no one will remember that Judd Gregg had a change of heart. It could be worse for Obama. And it will get better.