Baucus Beijing Appointment Shows White House Running Scared in 2014
Word leaked out yesterday that the White House is planning on nominating veteran Montana Senator Max Baucus (a Democrat) to become the new U.S. Ambassador to China. This continues this Administration’s long pattern of using the ambassadorial post in Beijing to take care of domestic political concerns rather than to strengthen our hand in international affairs.
Recall that Obama’s first appointment to the post was Jon Huntsman, then the Republican Governor of Utah. The Administration’s political hacks crowed at the time that this was a bit of Machiavellian genius, having sent Obama’s foremost potential rival for the 2012 presidential election halfway around the world. There were only two problems with that theory: (1) The Republican primary electorate had no real interest in Huntsman (Team Obama should have realized that anyone they saw as an appealing Republican would be a non-starter in a GOP election) and (2) Huntsman proved this fact by resigning the post a few years in and returning stateside to run against the president anyway. He was then subsequently replaced by Secretary of Commerce (and former Washington Governor) Gary Locke, whose primary qualification seemed to be his Chinese ancestry.
My first reaction to the Baucus appointment was precisely the one that NBC’s First Read highlights this morning:
Ever since Baucus said he wasn’t running for re-election — and after former Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) took a pass on running — Montana has become a clear pick-up opportunity for Republicans, giving them a do-able shot at netting the six seats needed to win back the Senate next year.
But yesterday’s news means that the state’s Democratic governor, Steve Bullock, gets to appoint a replacement for Baucus, and most observers believe the replacement pick will be Lt. Gov. John Walsh (D), who is already running for Baucus’ seat.
Putting someone like Walsh in the Senate would boost his name ID, give him the benefits of incumbency (staff, official duties), and potentially clear the Democratic primary (although it seems like fellow candidate John Bohlinger is someone who isn’t easily persuaded to get out of a race).
At a minimum, Walsh — as an appointed senator — basically moves this race from Lean Republican to Toss Up.
This is a time-honored tradition of political gamesmanship, but one that I’m not sure will be adequate next year. In a normal election cycle, such humble benefits may be a difference-maker. In this one — which Republicans would be wise to make a national referendum on ObamaCare —it may not be enough to get it done. True, Montana often elects Democrats (though it consistently votes Republican in presidential races), but it’s a fundamentally conservative state. If there’s any year they’re going to look at Democrats with a jaundiced eye, it will be 2014. Republicans, of course, still need a viable candidate, but this is going to be tough sledding for the left.
This appointment shows us two things: (1) The Obama Administration is far too careless in making its foreign policy appointments and (2) they’re already scared to death of what the 2014 midterm elections will look like. The first is regrettable. The second may represent some rare interaction between this administration and reality.