Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Dobson's Choice

The newest White House attempt to boost the nomination of Harriet Miers comes from, no surprise, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson.

The LA Times obtained an advance transcript of Dobson's radio broadcast from today. Here's what Dobson says about the candidates who were not nominated:

"What Karl [Rove] told me is that some of those individuals took themselves off that list and they would not allow their names to be considered, because the process has become so vicious and so vitriolic and so bitter that they didn't want to subject themselves or the members of their families to it."
After you've taken a moment to dash off a get-well card to John Roberts -- no doubt still recovering emotionally and physically from the Senate's vicious, vitriolic ass-kissing -- consider how the White House previously spun this selection process.

For one thing, Bush said flat-out that Miers was the best-qualified person for the position. Not the best-qualified person interested in the job. Not the best-qualified woman interested in the job. THE BEST-QUALIFIED PERSON IN EXISTENCE.

Bush's theoretically hyperbolic praise aside, there's the fact that the White House has already tried precisely the opposite spin in defending Miers. Specifically, the White House suggested that the previous front-runners blew their shots, and that the Miers choice represented the only point of total intersection on the political Venn diagram of competing SCOTUS interests. Here are the relevant passages from the Washington Post of Oct. 4 (I've italicized the passages contradicting Rove's story that candidates bowed out on their own):

Some of those considered during the first round dropped off the radar screen. Judge Edith Brown Clement of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit was scratched because she did not impress the White House during interviews for the seat that went to Roberts, according to sources close to the process. Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III of the 4th Circuit all but killed his chances because he talked about his July interview with Bush in the New York Times.

Bush had long considered naming Gonzales to the court, making him the nation's first Hispanic justice, but conservative opposition was so fierce that it undercut his candidacy. With first lady Laura Bush urging that a woman be named to fill O'Connor's seat, the White House put six women on the short list of 12 to 15 candidates.

Aides said Bush had been dwelling on advice from Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and others to consider candidates with real-world lawyering experience, not just those from the appellate bench.
So, assuming Rove is using Dobson, once again, to put a needed spin on Miers, what goal is he pursuing?

One, he's trying to ignite the dormant meme that the confirmation process is too partisan, too personal, too pugnacious. This has appeal to the civility-minded quotient among Dobson's Christian right. It also has appeal to good-government types. Most importantly, it has appeal to everyone, like Rove, trying to quash adversarial hearings.

Two, he's putting Republicans on notice that they will be vilified if they go after Miers. Why would he think they will? Because they already are. Today's New York Times reports that negative, anti-Miers research has already begun...on the right. Anyone acting on that research now knows that Rove will paint them as obstructionists who've coarsened public discourse so badly that it causes offense even from such inveterate mud-slingers as, well, Karl Rove.

Three, it's also tacit circumstantial evidence that the Wall Street Journal's John Fund was on point when he said the White House botched the job of vetting Miers and that the consequences of that will start bubbling up soon. They already have. If the White House realized its initial research was shoddy, it would have greater incentive to squelch external opposition research.

Four, it suggests that no one better than Miers was available to please every constituency. In other words, anyone better than Miers would have provoked opposition from some corner of the political world. So each SCOTUS special interest should understand that if they torpedo Miers, Bush will feel no obligation to factor in any of their individual, potentially-competing criteria for round two.

Ultimately, this is Bush's way of putting Dobson and more-vocal doubters on notice: You'll take Miers and like it.

The one intriguing hatch door for Bush in this scenario is the Miers-withdrawal scenario. I like its odds; a lot, actually. But the one complicating factor in it is this -- as easy as it is to imagine Miers willing to give up her shot, it's hard to imagine her doing so without the knowledge and consent of Bush himself. And it's even harder to imagine him endorsing, however tacitly, however privately, the notion that he screwed up.

(PS: Thanks to my former colleague Mark Halperin's invaluable Note over at for several of the links here.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Recall election anyone?

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