Thomas Brunell, who literally wrote the book on partisan gerrymandering, is just the latest unqualified Trump nominee to withdraw amid public scrutiny.
Trump’s pick to run the Census Bureau has reportedly withdrawn his name from consideration, joining a growing number of unqualified nominees who have been forced to withdraw from the running to lead federal agencies in the Trump administration.
According to a report by Mother Jones’ Ari Berman, Thomas Brunell — a Texas-based Republican who advocated for GOP gerrymandering in multiple states and wrote a book arguing against the merits of competitive elections — has removed his name from consideration to become the next deputy director of the U.S. Census Bureau.
Berman reached out to Brunell and the Commerce Department, which houses the Census Bureau, but he received no response to his requests for comment.
Trump picked Brunell in November 2017 to lead the Census Bureau, a position that would have put him of charge of running operations leading up to the 2020 census.
The results of the census are used to inform public policy, allot federal funding, and make critical decisions about representation in elections, including how electoral maps are drawn and how many congressional districts each state should have.
Historically, the Census Bureau has been led by a non-partisan career civil servant with a strong background in statistics. Brunell, a Republican political science professor with no government experience, lacked the expertise and experience that would typically be required for the position.
But his blatant lack of qualifications was the least of Brunell’s problems.
Far more troubling was his history of defending GOP-led racial gerrymandering and voter suppression laws, as well as his hostility toward one of the fundamental tenets of democracy: competitive elections.
According to Politico, Brunell “has testified more than half a dozen times on behalf of Republican efforts to redraw congressional districts.” Brunell’s 2008 book is actually titled ‘Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America.'”
Brunell’s nomination drew intense criticism from civil rights advocates, policy experts, and Democratic lawmakers, who said he could use his position to manipulate the census to give Republican areas more representation and funding than Democratic ones, or to dilute the impact of minority votes.
Terri Ann Lowenthal, former co-director of the Census Project, an organization that tracks the census, called Brunell’s nomination a “very troubling” sign that the Trump administration was trying to “politicize the census.”
Last month, Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Brian Schatz of Hawaii penned a letter calling on Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to block the appointment of Brunell, calling him “deeply unqualified.”
“The person charged with operational oversight of the governmental undertaking responsible for apportionment in our government’s highest legislative body should be committed to fair and accurate representation for all Americans,” the senators wrote. “Dr. Thomas Brunell is not that person.”
Brunell is just the latest woefully unqualified Trump nominee to withdraw his name from consideration amid intense public scrutiny. In December, Matthew Petersen became the third of Trump’s judicial nominees to drop out of the running for a federal judgeship, following in the footsteps of disgraced nominees Brett Talley and Jeff Mateer.
But Trump — who is himself staggeringly unqualified for the office he holds — apparently thinks being unfit to serve is an asset. In January, he actually resubmitted the nominations of at least three people who were previously nominated for Senate-confirmed positions but deemed unqualified or otherwise unfit to serve.
One would think he would have learned by now that tapping unqualified people to serve in leadership positions doesn’t usually turn out well.
In fact, less than two weeks ago, the person he chose to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was forced to resign in shame after getting caught profiting from investments in a tobacco company. That resignation came just three months after Tom Price, former Health and Human Services Secretary, was forced out amid revelations that he used taxpayer dollars to fund trips on private jets.
The bar is set so low for Trump, however, that the routine act of nominating someone — anyone — is seen as an accomplishment. But even that low bar is too high for Trump. A year into his presidency, he still hasn’t nominated anyone to fill nearly half of the most important positions in his administration.
Given the quality of his nominees, that may be a good thing.