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Brownback today, Specter tomorrow

I"ve never been a very good political prognosticator  -- I think I"ve confidently predicted six of the last two Democratic presidential victories -- but sometimes I get it right.  Four hours after the Miers nomination was announced, I wrote:

...there have to be some real questions about what Republicans will do. Remember, the 2008 presidential campaign has already begun. If you're a potential candidate like Senator Brownback, and you see this anger in the base, it is a golden opportunity to make some allies. And if Brownback turns on Miers, what are George Allen and Rick Santorum supposed to do? You could see the beginnings of significant bipartisan opposition to Miers, in which case the nomination would have to be withdrawn, even if it's not clear that the opposition would reach the 40-vote level.

Pretty good prediction, including the recognition that Brownback was the key.

As to what happens now, I don't think it will be quite as easy as naming Ben Bernanke to replace Greenspan. I've always thought that one explanation for the Miers nomination was that the White House process simply wasn't functioning. They had a decent number of plausible nominees -- female, Hispanic or both, reliable movement conservatives currently sitting on federal courts -- but just failed at the process of vetting them, getting them in to the President, making him comfortable with one of them, and moving forward. So they fell back to the person they knew, the familiar face in the room. That was almost a month ago. Now, with the top White House staff looking at each other suspiciously as they try to avoid indictment and with a president sliding into "Final Days" territory, they have to do the whole thing over again? Maybe, if as in the cases of Roberts and Bernanke there is an obvious choice, but I suspect it won't be so quick.

If all they had to do was satisfy the hard right, they could probably do it, especially if they don't worry about the nominee being female or Hispanic. But there is another factor they have to deal with now: Arlen Specter. A year ago, Specter was humbled and compliant. Bush and Santorum had saved his Senate seat from a right-wing primary challenge, and Bush had protected him when there were right-wing objections to his taking the Judiciary Committee chairmanship. But now the politics are very different. What's the right going to do to him now? What's Bill Frist going to do to either protect him or hurt him? Nothing. What good is the protection of a humbled White House? And knowing a little bit about Specter, I'm guessing that he feels highly insulted by the fact of the Miers nomination and that he was expected to push it through. An angry, empowered Specter is not a pretty sight, and my guess will be that if they send up a hard-right movement conservative, especially on choice, Specter will no longer feel any obligation to do anything to move the nomination forward. It's going to be much harder to satisfy both the angry right and the angry moderate than it would have been a month ago to just nominate one of the plausible candidates.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on October 27, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

Mark - good point, especially now that Santorum is appearing (if you believe the polls) poised to transition back to the private sector. There is no pressure in PA politics on Specter to support Bush, and picking a fight with Specter will just make Rickie's re-election chances that much worse. The shoe is moving to the other foot.

Posted by: fatbear | Oct 27, 2005 12:22:26 PM

I think I've confidently predicted six of the last two Democratic presidential victories

Don't knock yourself. That's pretty damn amazing! ;)

Posted by: Sven | Oct 27, 2005 12:59:01 PM

Didn't Dobson state that Bush had told him he was determined to name a woman, but the one he really wanted had declined? How did Miers feel, knowing she was the consolation prize in the first place?

rhs

Posted by: | Oct 27, 2005 1:25:11 PM

On the Dobson point, John Fund in the Wall Street Journal seems to have established that this thing about someone withdrawing was a lie to make Miers seem more plausible. And of course she knew it was a lie. (Which raises the question of how she felt that they had to lie and say she was the backup when she really wasn't.)

Posted by: Mark Schmitt | Oct 27, 2005 1:28:11 PM

I guess the question then is, what could be done at this point by of the players to further embolden Specter?

Posted by: Russ | Oct 27, 2005 1:34:01 PM

I'm still wary. I don't believe the WH is necessarily weakened. Rove seems to have avoided indictment in the Plame thing, which may make him feel comfortable asserting himself once again. That might mean nominating a winger. One thing's for sure: the base will definitely get behind a true believer nominee, especially after the Miers near "disaster" was averted. And we all know the lengths to which the right goes to defend fellow true believers.

Posted by: Jon K | Oct 28, 2005 10:25:05 AM

I think that your comment on Specter is very important. If not for the spectre of Specter, Bush has an obvious nominee: Michael McConnell. The Talibs love him and the Ds can live with him. He is Talibanic on church-state and abortion, but otherwise would probably be on the "left" side of today's skewed court. He also has fearsome academic chops, and good contacts with D law professors.
But if Specter is stroppy on abortion, even the McConnell option is problematic.

Posted by: Joe S. | Oct 28, 2005 3:32:34 PM

I thought your hunch about Specter was probably a good one, but reading the MSNBC headline it appears the Specter will at least assist his party by expediting the confirmation process.

I suspect the Republican Party would prefer a loud ideological clash where they have control of the levers of power over further flailing about with a crippled President. Any noise this Supreme Court nominee generates probably helps change the subject away from Niger and the coverup in the White House.

What would the outcome of a loud clash over a judicial candidate be, if Democrats try to block a slim majority from pushing the nomination through, and Republicans make full use of their power? I don't believe that the judiciary has the same 3rd rail quality that Social Security had that would prevent the GOP from pushing every power lever available. But I just don't know. Who's thought this through clearly and articulately?


Posted by: ChasHeath | Oct 31, 2005 10:07:27 PM

If the White House was trying to keep from alienating Specter, do you think that helps explain why Alito-- from Specter's backyard-- ended up being the nominee?

Posted by: Patience | Nov 1, 2005 9:17:37 PM

Specter will no longer feel any obligation to do anything to move the nomination forward.

Because there is nothing to fear humbled Bush administration BUT ALSO because he's had a cancer scare. Facing the really big one of possibly not waking up tomorrow can really make you not give a damn about pleasing the boss man; you may not have any more chances to leave a legacy of what you stood for.

Posted by: artappraiser | Nov 1, 2005 10:39:17 PM

I heard you on Brian Lehrer yesterday. Great segment.

Posted by: Jay | Nov 2, 2005 11:28:04 AM

I hear the show to Jay it was a great segment was wondering who you think will run the the 2008 elections for President?

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