President's foes will pay for his Miers misjudgment

October 28, 2005|By PETER A. BROWN

ORLANDO, Fla. -- It isn't often the president of the United States messes up and his political enemies pay the price for his error.

But that will be the upshot of Harriet Miers' aborted Supreme Court nomination.

It was one conceived to avoid alienating Democrats, but it took Republicans for granted.

Because President Bush's poll numbers have been low, he wanted to avoid a bruising Senate confirmation fight by picking someone whose lack of a paper trail or enemies would disarm the opposition.

It did, but that is a questionable strategy in zero-sum Washington, D.C., where the Democrats are the minority and catering to them inevitably alienates your own supporters, who are the majority in the Senate, which confirms judges.

In the short run, George W. Bush has egg on his face, and deservedly so.

His choice of Ms. Miers, without doubt a talented lawyer and long-time Bush acolyte, was a mistake.

The president made several fundamental misjudgments:

He overestimated how much weight his endorsement carried with Republicans - not just the officeholders but the grass-roots folks as well.

He didn't appreciate that the Supreme Court has become an emotional issue to conservatives, who are more than willing to stomach a nasty confirmation fight to get whom they want.

He didn't understand just how much Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid's blessing for Ms. Miers would immediately raise suspicions among conservatives that the president was selling them out.

For two decades, while Republicans have slowly but surely seized political power in the United States, the court system has been the last salvation for liberal Democrats. It has been the courts that have stopped GOP presidents and federal and state lawmakers from working their will on a variety of issues - not just abortion and gay marriage but also business regulation and the environment.

The Miers nomination was torpedoed by Mr. Bush's friends, who believed that the president had mistaken her personal loyalty to him for the kind of judicial orientation they want on the Supreme Court.

It is probably unfair to the president, but his father's 1990 choice for the Supreme Court of David H. Souter undercut the Miers nomination badly within Republican circles. When Bush the elder selected Justice Souter, his nominee, too, was advertised as a conservative, but Justice Souter's record on the court stamps him as among the most liberal of the Supremes today.

Having gotten to the point where Republicans control the process, with a GOP president and Senate, the GOP infrastructure was simply unwilling to take a chance on Ms. Miers despite Mr. Bush's insistence that he knew her to be the kind of judge he and they wanted.

Mr. Bush will certainly suffer politically because of it now. It won't help his low poll numbers and will make it easier for the news media to do stories about an incompetent White House.

Given that Mr. Bush will likely now give the Democrats a nominee many of them will hate, a no-holds-barred confirmation fight seems in the cards. Yet if the president gives his own troops someone they like, most Republicans will get what they want after a nasty fight that will make Democrats wish instead that Harriet Miers was sitting on the Supreme Court for the next two decades.

Peter A. Brown is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.

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