Sen. Judd Gregg's (R-N.H.) decision to bolt President Obama's Cabinet is yet another reason for Republicans to rejoice, and 2009 has already provided the GOP with many.

After the speedy yet bungled and not-remotely-transparent stimulus debate and the dreadful response to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's bank rescue plan, Gregg's departure caps a terrible week in President Obama's three-week-old administration.

I admire Gregg for his no-drama, workhorse service in the Senate, where he has resisted a role in leadership for years, content to do the tough business of legislating. He is known as smart, fair and firmly conservative.

Why he thought he could serve in the Obama administration is something only he can know. But it is clear that he is entirely to blame for signing up for such a challenge, only to change his mind — not Obama. And while his Senate Republican colleagues have promised to give him a standing ovation when he enters their next caucus meeting, I don't think Gregg will enjoy it, and I imagine he will continue to feel as sheepish as he looks and sounds right now for months to come.

Obama can still reach the bipartisan accord that he seeks and that the Washington establishment now tells him is impossible. But it won't come from attending GOP conferences, sharing cocktails at the White House or even playing basketball together.

True bipartisanship involves concession, even on fundamental philosophical disagreements. Republicans may have lost sight of their principles when they held power, but now that they have lost control, principles are all they have left. They won't vote for Democratic bills; they have no reason to.

As Obama puts the ugly stimulus process behind him and sets his sights on a grand legislative agenda involving ambitious energy, healthcare and entitlement reforms, he can win Republican votes, but not by being nice. Had he included enough Republican ideas in the stimulus, some Republicans would have voted for the massive, unprecedented government spending and owned the risk with Obama. Now if it fails, they won't.

This week, after Obama went to Elkhart, Ind., to sell the stimulus to a county where 15.3 of its residents are unemployed, he still couldn't change their congressman's mind. In my column this week, Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.), who has crossed the aisle and voted with Democrats many times, told me why.



CAN OBAMA BREAK THE PARTISAN STRANGLEHOLD? SHOULD HE TRY? Ask A.B. returns Tuesday, Feb. 17. Please join my weekly video Q&A by sending your questions and comments to askab@thehill.com. Thank you.