Over the last few administrations, presidents have chosen a token appointment to their cabinets in order to put a veneer of bipartisanship on their policies.  Ronald Reagan appointed then-Democrat Bill Bennett as Secretary of Education.  Bill Clinton gave William Cohen the substantial portfolio of Defense, but only in his second term.  George W. Bush had Norman Mineta at Transportation for over five years.  Now speculation begins as to whether Barack Obama will appoint a Republican to his Cabinet, and who it might be:

President-elect Barack Obama will reach to the middle and offer more than just-for-show appointments to Republicans in his administration, friends and colleagues predicted Wednesday.

An Obama administration “will be reasonable and logical, not ideological,” Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine told The Washington Times in an interview. “It will be about results, not rhetoric.” Mr. Kaine is a longtime friend of Mr. Obama’s and an early backer who campaigned extensively for the Illinois Democrat and has advised him informally on economic matters.

Mr. Kaine speculated that Mr. Obama would run “a very progressive administration,” but also one that will try to find “pragmatic” solutions to problems.

“Much of it will be centrist, but it will be the smart center, using technology and new ideas and creativity to find common ground,” he said.

One possibility broached before the election was Robert Gates.  Obama’s team gave hints that they would like to see Gates continue at Defense, which would keep continuity in the war effort.  It could also suggest a great deal more flexibility in Obama’s thinking on Iraq, as Gates replaced Donald Rumsfeld in order to plan and execute the so-called “surge” strategy.

Other than that, though, the possibilities seem limited.  In his first appointment, Obama selected a hard-nosed partisan cheap-shot artist as his Chief of Staff.  It’s difficult to see Rahm Emanuel playing in the sandbox with Republicans well enough to give many of them a comfort level in joining his team.  That appointment sets an unfortunate tone for the future of postpartisanship in the incoming Obama administration.

I’d expect to see no more than two Republicans in the Cabinet, and Gates would likely be one of them.  Candidates for other positions would probably be limited to outright “Obamacans” or those hostile to the Bush administration:

  • Colin Powell – His endorsement could give him Defense if Gates leaves.
  • Chuck Hagel – He’s retiring from the Senate and available; potential Defense or Ag post.
  • Michael Bloomberg – Vacillates from Democrat to Republican to independent, but could make a good candidate for Treasury
  • Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins – Either would help reduce the Republican contingent in the Senate, as Democrat governor John Baldacci would appoint their replacement.  HHS, perhaps?

Don’t expect to see any conservatives on the short list of Republican candidates for appointment, but hey, you already knew that much.  When Obama says Republicans, he means Republicans who support Democrats … just as Bush, Clinton, and Reagan defined bipartisanship in their across-the-aisle appointments.