Tuesday, October 07, 2008

October Files: Why Candidates Don't Name Cabinets

WE'VE MOVED! Democratic Convention Watch is now at http://www.DemocraticConventionWatch.com

Cabinet This was a question that came up towards the end of the primaries, and it's a valid one. There are more good reasons than not to refrain from naming a cabinet in advance of an election. They include:

  • It can give the negative presumption that a candidate thinks he has already won the election
  • Without naming a cabinet, Party leaders work hard in hopes of landing a spot in the administration
  • Naming a cabinet creates additional targets for the opposing campaign

The "Stumped" blog at the Washington Post took a good crack at answering this last weekend, but it did not cover the third point which I think is the most important one.

Naming potential cabinet appointees prior to the election creates an opportunity for the opposing campaign to make the potential appointees a campaign issue, digging into their past, and make them a liability. So it begs the question, do you really want to spend time on the campaign trail defending a potential labor secretary who had misgivings in college? And does anyone really want to accept being named as a potential nominee?

The incoming president, whomever he may be, will have greater freedom to select the best person for the job after the election - not before.

The US Senate confirmation hearings in January will dig into the past of each nominee, but the level of scrutiny is different. Campaigns will zero in on gaffes and things to embarrass the opposition to create doubt in the mind of the voter. The Senate is likely to focus on more substantive items pertaining to past legal issues and similar indiscretions. Popular presidents get what popular presidents want: but the Senate always gets one cabinet appointee picked off, but a campaign would try to go after everyone of the potential nominees.

So how is a President-elect supposed to build a government in 75 days?

Think tanks in Washington, DC are already at work on these things right now. Democratic leaning organizations such as Center for American Progress and Republican leaning groups such as the Heritage Foundation spend time compiling reports and briefings on potential cabinet posts, department heads and judicial appointments. The day after the election, they help put together the transition team and offer these materials as reference guides.

Obviously one stack of briefings will get thrown out on November 5th.