Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Nightmare Continues

A couple of items from David Frum. First a reader e-mail:

You are spot on in your assessment of the lasting damage the Miers nomination will cause to the Republican Party. Consider the damage already done. It’s most apparent on political talk shows. Miers supporters, identifiable party figures like Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Dan Coats, have stumbled through interview after interview unable to answer basic questions about Miers’ suitability for the Court. The best they can muster is “I trust the President.” These Republicans are being asked to make a case they don’t believe in, and it is obvious. Is supporting for President Bush all Republicans stand for? That’s the public message these figures and the White House are sending. Is that a beneficial message for the Republican Party?

But the damage doesn’t stop there. Unable to provide any coherent arguments for the Miers nomination aside from “I trust the President”, Republicans have began to employ the language of left wing Democrats. Republicans can no longer credibly claim to be the party of merit. In the last week, Republican leaders, like Ed Gillespie and Ken Mehlman, have publicly eschewed traditional identifiable credentials, such as relevant professional experience and academic achievement, for the soft relativist credentials of the left, diversity and gender achievement. Worse they have personally attacked the defenders of traditional merit with charges of “elitism” and “sexism.”

Elitist? Isn’t it true that some schools are more competitive and attract better applicants than others do? Doesn’t academic success at these schools tell us something meaningful? Are there no definable criteria for academic excellence? Sexist? No one has suggested Miers is unqualified because of her sex. In fact as many have said, there are at least a dozen women conservatives would have been thrilled with. Is this what Republicans have been reduced to? Responding to reasoned arguments with personal attacks worthy of Howard Dean and Al Sharpton?

Can those that are blindly defending the President and this disastrous nomination not see the damage they are already doing? If this is what the Party stands for how can we who believe in standards and merit stand with it?

Also this, by Frum:

Krauthammer and Kristol have both called for the Miers nomination to be withdrawn. Rush Limbaugh, George Will, and Laura Ingraham have expressed the gravest concern. Your ballots are running more than 15 to 1 against confirmation. (I will close the balloting at 5 pm Eastern Time today and post results tonight.)

But all this raises the question: What Now?

There is at this point only one serious defense of the Miers nomination. (And no, I am not referring here to Brit Hume's and Fred Barnes' embarrassing repetition of Ed Gillespie's talking points: "Brawwwwwk-sexism; brawwwwwwk-elitism; brawwwwwwwwwk-Harvard; brawwwwwwwwwk; brawwwwwkk; brawwwwwk.")

The serious defense is offered by Hugh Hewitt: concern for the president's political position. Despite Kristol and Krauthammer's wise advice, President Bush will not voluntarily withdraw this nomination. That would be utterly out of character. So, as Hewitt argues,

"Continuing the assault on Miers means committing to her defeat...." And, according to Hewitt, a defeat of the Miers nomination by Republicans would be a self-destructive act.

These words need to be taken seriously. A Miers defeat, if it could be made to happen, would deal a serious blow to the Bush presidency. Conservatives need to think hard about that.

But Bush defenders like Hewitt need to consider this: A Miers win would also deal serious blows - to the Republican party, to the conservative movement, and, yes, to the Bush presidency.

Consider these hard political facts:

1) Hewitt foresees all kinds of Republican political opportunities in 2006. He's deluding himself. 2006 will be a high-intensity, high-turnout year for Democrats, as was 2004. The only way Republicans avoid disaster is by doing an even better job with turnout and intensity. And how intense are you feeling right now? The right nomination could have helped save Rick Santorum and Mike DeWine. This nomination could well demoralize the Republican voting base enough - in conjunction with immigration, over-spending, and the mishandling of Katrina, plus continuing trouble in Iraq - to cost at least two Senate seats.

2) The damage dealt to the conservative movement will be huge and lasting. As the conservative movement has grown and matured, it has necessarily compromised some of its early fierceness and idealism. Broad coalitions have to be built, elections have to be won, leaders have to be supported despite their inevitable personal imperfections. Through the Bush years, conservatives have shown tremendous discipline. They have accepted minor disappointments for the sake of higher priorities: the war, the courts. But if they accept this, they will be jettisoning every principle in favor of just this one: the leader is always right. That's not just unconservative. It's un-American.

3) At his press conference Tuesday, the president said he has "plenty" of political capital. He's wrong about that. If political capital means the ability to get your supporters to persuade people to do things they would not otherwise want to do - well then the president has just spent it all. It's too late for him to reach out across the aisle; he must depend on his core political supporters - and the harder he pushes this nomination, the more he will alienate them. His only hope to recoup is to reconnect with conservatives - and abandoning this nomination is essential to that end.

The president is down to 37% approval - but he still holds 80% of conservatives. If that latter number drops because of the Miers appointment, what happens to his top line approval? And I fear that the president's approval among conservatives drop, and maybe hard.

George Bush has again and again called on conservatives to sacrifice for the success of his presidency. Whether it was McCain-Feingold or racial quotas or immigration or "Islam is peace," conservatives were urged not to let petty personal considerations distract them from the big picture.

But when it was the president's turn to make the biggest domestic-policy decision of his presidency, to fill the swing seat on the US Supreme Court, did he sacrifice? Did he point the general good ahead of his own petty personal considerations? He did not. He abandoned his principles, his party, his loyal followers all to indulge his personal favoritism.

He has done himself terrible damage, and he cannot fix it until and unless he breaks free - or is helped to break free - from this bad decision.

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