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Ashes in Our Mouth


The Senatorial breakdown on Miers is sorting out as a division between conservatives and party men. In doing so, it is highlighting the growing impotence of the White House and the Republican leadership over its own rank and file.

The case of Sen. Arlen Specter is instructive. Despite having presided over the rejection of her initial Q&A responses to the Senate Judiciary committee, the Senator is now defending her prospects, and defending the President who sent her forth. No doubt this is in part because Miers has apparently assured him that she believes in the illusory “right to privacy” that was inserted into the Constitution by a previous Supreme Court in 1965. For an old pro-abortion hand like Specter, this is as good as an assurance that Justice Harriet Miers will never overturn Roe v. Wade. While that’s the explanation in part, the explanation in full must acknowledge that Arlen Specter owes his political life to George W. Bush and the GOP establishment. He would never have beaten off the 2004 grassroots challenge from Pat Toomey (now at the Club for Growth, a better conservative, and a better man) without the wholehearted support of the White House and the national GOP; and he even needed Administration help in overcoming conservative opposition to his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee. So what’s Specter doing now? Rendering tribute. Payback.

All this raises the question of why the Administration invested the political capital in Arlen Specter in the first place. Defenders of the White House efforts on the Senator’s behalf at the time explained it in terms of pragmatism, with the sub rosa assurance that a Specter dependent upon the President would be compliant. It seems that they were half right: he is happily defending the indefensible. But that’s been a motif of Arlen Specter’s entire career: that he does it now for George W. Bush doesn’t affect its moral quality. The profound irony is that it does not affect its practical quality either — the Miers nomination is going down in any case, either at the hands of Democrats and conservatives, or by voluntary withdrawal of the nominee.

What, then, does the Administration have to show – in this defining historical moment of its existence, more than 9/11 ever will be – for its strategy of alienating conservatives for the past five years? It has Arlen Specter in its corner. It has lukewarm conservative Kay Bailey Hutchison in its corner. Puzzlingly, it has the otherwise solid John Cornyn in its corner. It has genuine conservative (but far-too-eager party man) Hugh Hewitt in its corner. Oh yes – we’ve run out of relevant Republican Senators and are moving on to bloggers now.

And tellingly enough, the President has nominal Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on his side. Frist supported Miers early and clearly, and was ignored. Frist called on Republicans to defend Miers on the Senate floor, and was ignored. Frist, in this critical hour, is called upon to exercise his leadership – and is ignored.

The blogger is a more apt defender of Harriet Miers. This, then, is party leadership GOP-style coming into 2006.

Meanwhile, conservatives are organizing against their own party. A new grassroots effort to secure Miers’ withdrawal lists nine GOP Senators – Santorum, Brownback, Lott, Allen, Graham, Sessions, Coburn, Vitter and Ensign – as “deeply concerned” about the nominee. That’s Washingtonspeak for “opposed.” The party is fracturing, and the conservative movement is fracturing. George W. Bush has accomplished in a few short weeks what the Democrats have not been able to do for a decade.

But the fracturing is not permanent. It may not even be long-term. Conservatives will re-coalesce, and the party will too. These things go on. The establishment – the President and those exposed as loyalists per se in the Miers fight – will almost assuredly not.

Share  Posted by Josh Trevino at 3:01 PM | Permalink

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