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Conservatives rebuked Bush, not Miers


By Trevor Bothwell

web posted October 31, 2005


Well, there goes the article I was readying to write to explain why George W. Bush's only hope of saving his party from impending irrelevance, not to mention himself from immediate lame duck status, was either to withdraw Harriet Miers' nomination to the Supreme Court or to encourage her to do so. Alas, Miers has beaten me to the punch and withdrawn.


On the bright side, however, I can now write that conservatives have just been granted a reprieve, and it's time for Bush to act like a leader and appoint a nominee his base deserves.


Harriet Miers and George W. BushFor the record, Harriet Miers did not bring this windstorm of opposition upon herself, and I feel badly that she’s had to endure such criticism the past several weeks. But she likely has just done conservatives and Republicans a bigger favor than she ever could have done on the Court, by granting Bush the opportunity now to appoint a proven jurist and thus recapture the support of conservatives. For this she is owed a debt of gratitude.


If there's anything we can and should take away from Ms. Miers' withdrawal, it's that conservatives rebuked President Bush, not Miers -- even if it didn't seem that way. Bush has been alienating his base on several fronts for some time now, and the Miers nomination was simply that last straw. But while most conservatives are excited by the possibility that Bush will now appoint a well-known strict constructionist to the Supreme Court (which, unfortunately, is hardly a given), this entire episode may not come to a close without yielding undesired consequences.


If Miers was confirmed, we very well may have ended up with someone to the left of Sandra Day O'Connor (as one speech transcript from the Nineties tends to indicate). On the other hand, by forcing her withdrawal, conservatives have risked setting a bad precedent because they've always argued that if a nominee is qualified, he or she should be confirmed. As John Hinderaker of Power Line blog has argued, Ms. Miers is qualified, at least by historical standards. But by getting her to withdraw we potentially face future confirmation difficulties where senators may seek to reject qualified candidates simply because they're not the ones they wanted, or because they're not the "best" of the bunch. That shouldn't be how the process works.


That said, it is Mr. Bush’s fault that he failed to realize that appointing Harriet Miers would alienate his most ardent supporters, initiating this “Catch-22” situation in the first place. It was Bush's seeming capitulation to Senate Democrats, as well as his apparent decision to listen to his wife instead of his base -- he practically discounted male candidates to replace O’Connor -- that turned conservatives sour, lending the impression that Ms. Miers lacked the merits required -- however potentially untrue -- for such a prestigious position in American politics.


I've been opposed to the Miers nomination from the outset for precisely these reasons, though trying to avoid a confrontation with the “Gang of 14” may have been reasonable considering Republican senators haven’t seemed too inclined to fight for a strong conservative nominee. We all recall that most Senate Republicans refused to fight for John Bolton's nomination to the U.N., so there is plenty of reason to believe that Bush viewed that event as a harbinger of their unwillingness to fight for a strict constructionist to the Supreme Court. But everything considered, while this all may have been “politics as usual,” conservatives cannot be faulted for thinking they got the shaft.


Even if President Bush worries that senators in his own party will not forcefully defend a nominee who truly fits the mold of a Scalia or Thomas, he nevertheless has an obligation to his base to appoint one and to expect those senators to do so. If nothing else, such a move will clarify whether our problems lie with our president or our Congress.


Despite recent developments, some conservatives retain doubts as to whether President Bush has, in essence, learned his lesson and can be relied upon to nominate a known strict constructionist. I can’t say that the Miers nomination was an indication that Bush intentionally flouted the will of his base, but I have to believe he's definitely paying attention to it now. He's no dummy. And ironically enough, the very same Republican senators he once may have feared may now be convinced that it's in their best interests to support such a nominee.


Time will tell.


Trevor Bothwell is a contributing writer to Democracy Project. He can be contacted at bothwelltj@yahoo.com.

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