The Lonely Centrist

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Harriett Miers Unites Republican Activists

We've commented on, but not taken sides, in the Harriett Miers' dispute. But it seems to the Centerman that two things are being misconstrued.

First, many seem to think that this is a battle between social conservative Republicans and libertarian Republicans, as the Washington Post suggests:

Miers's speeches, which she provided to the Judiciary Committee, prompted a
wary reaction from conservatives. Many conservative organizations have
criticized her selection and several have called on President Bush to withdraw
her name, saying there are other more qualified, conservative legal scholars and
jurists who should be nominated.
In an undated speech given in the spring of 1993 to the Executive Women of
Dallas, Miers appeared to offer a libertarian view of several topics in which
the law and religious beliefs were colliding in court.

It seems to us that this misreads the situation. While Miers continues to be supported by the Republican grassroots, who "trust the President," Republican activists of all stripes are increasingly opposed to her nomination. Opposition has come from social conservatives such as Professor Bainbridge and neo-cons, headed by David Frum, who have formed Americans for Better Justice to oppose her nomination. But libertarian Republicans such as the Cato Institute's Roger Pilon and former Reason Magazine editor Virginia Postrel have also been highly critical. It was Pilon who said, "she's not one of us." Traveling among my conservative friends, whatever their brand of conservativism, there is deep opposition to the nomination. This will soon start to effect the grassroots support for Miers from the "trust the President" folks - indeed, there is evidence that it already has.

The second point is more an observation. I find the methods and modes of argument in Washington to be fascinating. By and large White House defenses of Miers are falling of their own weight - the White House would do better to actually defend Miers' views, rather than merely assert that she is conservative (this is assuming that she has views on constitutional issues). The White House has already been blasted for crude efforts to accuse Miers opponents of sexism, for example. But the one argument that still seems to resonate with rank and file Republicans outside of Washington is the argument that, unlike David Souter, in this case the President really knows Harriett Miers, so conservatives can have confidence in his pick.

But how is this really different from the Souter pick? No, the President didn't know Souter, but John Sununu, his Chief of Staff, a man with longstanding conservative credentials, knew Souter well, and repeatedly vouched for Souter's conservatism. In both cases, conservatives are being asked to rely on one man's judgment. Even when one really trusts that man - as many Republicans do George W. Bush, and as George H.W. Bush did John Sununu - he could be wrong.

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