Facing The Music
It started with the New Orleans blues. Now it's sounding like a real dirge
This kind of message was persuasive to some. James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family, endorsed Miers after Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove assured him that she attended a pro-life church. Television evangelist Pat Robertson warned Republican senators not to oppose her "if they want to stay in office."
Doubts. A GOP strategist argues that "there has not been a lot of blowback from the grass-roots level" over Miers. But he concedes that if conservatives persist in attacking, Miers's standing could quickly erode among the rank and file.
Among Republican senators, Bush's biggest challenges include Sam Brownback of Kansas and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, both members of the Judiciary Committee, and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. All three oppose abortion and are reserving judgment about Miers. Brownback said in New Hampshire last week that Bush won the White House "in no small part because of his view of what the court needed to be and was not." All three senators say Miers's performance at her confirmation hearings--expected in November--will be crucial.
Republican strategists say the Miers furor underscores the fact that after four years of uniting behind Bush, many social conservatives feel entitled to more of a reward. They expect Bush to shift the court to the right now that Sandra Day O'Connor, a swing vote, has announced her retirement.
The seeds of their discontent were planted months before Miers or new Chief Justice John Roberts were even nominated, when, the critics say, the White House and its judicial-nomination managers, nicknamed "the Four Horsemen," shut out many activists. The White House and the umbrella group, led by lawyer Boyden Gray, Federalist Society Executive Vice President Leonard Leo, lawyer-evangelist Jay Sekulow, and former Attorney General Edwin Meese, are accused of wanting complete control. "The White House created a situation that alienated a lot of conservative leaders in the pre-Roberts phase, and the umbrella group intentionally excluded a lot of people who were free thinkers or evangelicals," said Manuel Miranda of the Third Branch Conference, a group that favors conservative judicial nominees.
Bush's persuasiveness has suffered because of other issues. Mounting casualties in Iraq, for example, have damaged Bush's credibility and raised doubts about the war, with 64 percent of Americans saying the conflict hasn't been worth the cost in American lives, according to a CBS poll. Adding to the Republican Party's woes: the indictment of House leader Tom DeLay on money-laundering charges and a federal investigation into a stock deal involving Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Finally, a federal prosecutor is investigating the possible role of Rove and vice presidential Chief of Staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby in revealing the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame to the media. The results of that probe--perhaps including indictments--are expected any day now.
While social conservatives are upset with the Miers nomination, fiscal conservatives have their own gripes. Many are fed up with the astronomical deficits run up by the administration and the GOP-controlled Congress, estimated at $317 billion for the fiscal year that ended September 30. The current year's deficit is likely to be much larger because of the spending to rebuild the Gulf States in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Some conservatives are intent on reducing other expenditures to hold the deficit down, but it's doubtful that Congress has the will to slash popular programs.