Why Did Obama Give Republicans a Scalp?

Andrew Sprung comments on Susan Rice’s withdrawal from consideration as secretary of state:

When I saw the news, my own mind jumped to a conclusion simultaneous with processing it: shit, Obama caved. I consider that a significant data point, not because I’m particularly knowledgeable about this process or about Rice, but because I’m not. I think anyone who followed the course of this prospective nomination even casually would have leaped to the same conclusion. And those optics suggest a major White House failure, whatever the merits of Rice as Secretary of State.

Moreover, I think we do know enough to lament the way this affair was handled….[Rice’s] claim that a “long, grueling confirmation battle” would have distracted from struggles to enact key legislation reinforces the perception that Obama is unwilling to confront determined opposition. Her assertion, “The position of Secretary of State should never be politicized” highlights the fact that her enemies successfully politicized it.

Why was this appalling affair handled the way it was? As Andrew suggests later, why not just nominate John Kerry for secretary of state and say he was the top choice all along? And why let this process drag out so publicly for over a month?

I suppose the likeliest explanation is that, yes, it was just badly handled. But there’s another possibility: Obama (a) wanted to give Rice every possible chance, and (b) wanted to make it crystal clear that Republican intransigence had killed the nomination. The latter has a couple of benefits. First, it’s probably good PR for Team Obama. Second, it means that Senate Republicans have a scalp. The informal rules of Washington DC culture allow the opposition party to reject one or two nominees (John Tower, Zoë Baird, Tom Daschle) but then confirm the rest. By making Rice their scalp, it probably makes Obama’s future nomination fights easier.


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