The Miers Nomination: A Marriage Analogy

Imagine if you will, a marriage on the rocks. There’s a lot of fighting, a lot of strain, & things seem to be getting progressively worse.

But, all is not lost. The couple’s 10 year anniversary is coming up, the husband is promising to take a week off so he and the wife can go on a surprise trip the next Friday. This idea thrills the wife to no end! Are they going on a Caribbean cruise? To Vegas? Maybe they’re even heading to London! The wife doesn’t know where they’re going; she can’t wait! Things may not have been so great lately, but this trip is going to turn things around. She just knows it!

So, the wife’s bag is packed, she has told all her friends about the romantic “mystery trip” her husband is going to take her on, and she is so excited she can hardly think straight. Then her husband walks in the door and asks her if she’s ready for the “trip?” She says, “yes,” looks expectantly at her husband and he reveals that — drumroll, please — they’re going on a trip to the bowling alley every day for the next week! Hip-hip-hooray!

The wife’s jaw clenches, her hands ball up into fists, and she gets so angry she looks like she’s about to explode. “The bowling alley,” she says? “But, you know that I don’t like bowling.”

“Oh, but it’ll be fun, honey! It’ll be just you and me, bowling all day long! It’ll be a blast!” Then, he starts to notice that his wife’s face is getting red, she’s breathing harder, and her teeth are clenched.

Then one thing pops into the husband’s mind, “Uh-oh.”

The wife erupts, she’s livid, she’s outraged, and she starts looking at her suitcase and mentions something about, “going to her mother’s house for a while.”

At this point, the husband has a few different ways that he can proceed.

#1) He can try to show his wife who’s boss and demand that she go bowling and like it!

#2) He can spend the next 20 minutes talking to his wife and trying to sincerely convince her that she’ll have a great time bowling. Then, if and when he fails, he can just throw up his hands and tell her that bowling is her only option.

#3) He can say: “Sometimes I am so thoughtless, I just don’t know what I was thinking. Forget about bowling. Instead, right now, right this moment, I’m going to get on the phone and book a flight for the two of us to London. You’ve always wanted to go there, right? Well, we’re getting on the first flight out, we’re going to have a wonderful time, and then when we get back, I’m going to romance you like I did when we were first dating.”

Whether the husband thinks his wife is overreacting or not, if keeping the marriage together is important to him, he goes with option #3.

Today, George W. Bush is in the same situation as the husband with a significant percentage of his base.

Even before his selection of Harriet Miers, many conservatives were not particularly happy with George Bush. That’s part of the reason why his approval rating has been hovering around 40%. So if ever there was a lousy time for George Bush to say, “trust me,” it was with this Supreme Court pick. But, that’s water under the bridge now. He has nominated Harriet Miers, there is an ugly ongoing fight over that nomination that will last for weeks if something isn’t done, and he needs to decide where he wants to go from here.

If George Bush wants to shove the Harriet Miers nomination through, he can probably get enough GOP Senators and happy Democrats on board to help him do it, but the political cost is going to be staggering. By the time she is confirmed, the public will believe Miers is an under qualified crony because they’ll have heard people who are normally the President’s biggest supporters say it over and over again.

Furthermore, the conservatives who justifiably feel betrayed by this pick — and there are a lot of them — will be deeply unhappy with Bush, the Senators who vote for Miers, and maybe even the whole Republican party. That “demotivating” discontent will cost the GOP fund raising dollars, volunteers, votes, support, and probably multiple Senate seats in 2006.

The idea that Bush is going to convince the dissenters that Miers is actually an OK pick through endorsements from prominent conservatives who say they are willing to “trust Bush” or at her hearings is a pipe dream. The only things that could turn conservatives who are unhappy with Miers around are the three things she lacks: rock solid conservative credentials, superb qualifications for the job, & a track record that gives some indication that she’s an originalist.

The obvious solution would be to pull the Miers nomination and select a candidate who would satisfy the base. Many people don’t think that will happen because Bush is famous for his bulldog like tenacity. As Rogers Cadenhead put it:

“The president’s so stubborn that were he captain of the Titanic, he would have run the ship into a second iceberg to prove he meant to hit the first one.”

That’s a great line, but it doesn’t necessarily ring true in this case. Remember Linda Chavez and Bernard Kerkik? Since their nominations were withdrawn earlier in his administration, there’s no reason to believe that Bush will stick with a nomination until the end, regardless of the political cost. That’s doubly true in this case since there are plenty of far superior candidates to Miers waiting in the wings.

However, some people might wonder: could Bush really get a top notch conservative with a track record through the Senate? Absolutely he could, especially after the furor the Miers pick has created.

Without question, the 51 votes necessary to confirm a judge like Janice Rogers Brown, Michael Luttig, or Priscilla Owen would be there. Moreover, Bush could get the 51 votes needed for the nuclear option as well. Keep in mind that there were 48 Republican votes for the nuclear option initially, which means that the GOP only needs 2 members of the “Gang of 14” to change sides, along with a vote from Cheney, to win the day.

Out of the 7 Republicans who were against the nuclear option last time, at least 4 of them would be highly likely to change their tune this time around, especially after seeing the raw fury the base has unleashed over the Miers nomination. Mike DeWine is up for reelection next year and Lincoln Chafee has a credible opponent for the Republican primaries. If either of them would like to be reelected as US Senators next year, they would vote for the nuclear option. Then there’s John McCain, who can kiss his dreams of being President good-bye if he goes the wrong way on the vote and Lindsey Graham who has as much as said he’ll vote for the nuclear option if the Democrats filibuster a SCOTUS nominee over ideology. Given the way that the votes are lining up, it’s doubtful that Harry Reid would even want to pursue a filibuster he’d be guaranteed to lose, but if he did, the GOP would come out on the winning end of the fight.

That’s why those who say the President would be seriously harmed politically by withdrawing the Miers nomination have it exactly backwards. The political damage is being caused by conservative infighting and it would stop if Miers were withdrawn. Furthermore, if the President decided to replace Miers with a credible nominee, many of very same people who are slamming the nomination today would turn around and enthusiastically support Miers’ replacement. Also, consider how many conservatives who are standing behind Harriet Miers today would truly prefer to have her on the Supreme Court as opposed to candidates like Edith Hollan Jones, Michael McConnell, or Karen Williams? Judging by the damningly faint praise of the Miers’ nomination so far, very, very, few.

Which brings us back to the central question George W. Bush needs to ask himself: is the marriage worth saving or is getting Harriet Miers on the Supreme Court more important? Put another way, would George Bush prefer to be on the receiving end of the same sort of backlash his father was blasted with after breaking his, “Read my lips, no new taxes” pledge or would he rather withdraw the nomination and send up a better candidate?

Sure, Bush doesn’t have to run for reelection again, but he does have more than three years left in office. If he’s content to basically twiddle his thumbs for that long it really doesn’t matter what his base thinks. But, on the other hand, if Bush wants to push an agenda during that time and retain or increase the size of the GOP majority in Congress, it would be advisable for him to withdraw Harriet Miers rather than permanently damage his relationship with a sizable portion of his base.

This is the choice George W. Bush faces and the impact of his decision will reverberate not just throughout the 2006 election cycle, but for the remainder of his term in the White House.

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