Obama’s Calculated GOP Outreach

Rep. John McHugh (R-NY) with US troops.

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

President Barack Obama will appoint yet another moderate Republican to a top post in his administration on Tuesday. Obama’s expected nomination of John M. McHugh, a GOP congressman from New York, to be Secretary of the Army comes less than three weeks after the president picked Jon Huntsman, the popular Republican governor of Utah, as his ambassador to China.

The nomination follows a pattern. While the Republicans Obama has asked to join his team have been unquestionably qualified for the jobs he selected them for (Huntsman speaks Mandarin; McHugh is the top Republican on the Armed Services committee), the picks have also provided Obama with clear political advantages. 

In the space of less than a month, Obama has brought a potential 2012 presidential rival, Huntsman, onto his team and, with the nomination of McHugh, gave Democrats a chance at winning one of the last three House seats in New York still held by Republicans.

Obama’s abortive pick of Judd Gregg, a GOP Senator from New Hampshire, to be his Commerce secretary would have also helped Democrats. If Gregg had joined the administration and an interim Senator had been appointed in his place, it would have given Paul Hodes, the Democratic congressman who is running for Senate in 2010, a clearer path to the upper house. (As it stands now, Gregg has said he will retire and not run for reelection in 2010, but that could always change.)

Obama’s outreach to his right recalls no one if not Ronald Reagan. Last month, columnist Mark Shields wrote:

In 1980, the Republicans under Ronald Reagan’s leadership were recruiting with open arms disaffected members of the opposition. Remember “Reagan Democrats”? In 2008, Barack Obama repeatedly courted Republicans and other non-Democrats to his campaign and cause. His efforts were rewarded in November when he carried independents, suburbanites and Catholic voters.

Those avenging Republicans who might prefer the recreation of another Salem tribunal must first confront these numbers. In 2005, there were 55 Republicans in the U.S. Senate. And with Democrat Al Franken of Minnesota almost certain to eventually be seated, there are now only 40 Republican senators. In 2005, there were 232 Republicans in the U.S. House. Today, there are 178.

Now there are 177. By reaching out to his opposition, Obama is also shrinking it.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend