With conservative ire over President Bush’s selection of Harriet Miers reaching eardrum-bursting decibel levels, the verdict is still out on whether Miers may prove, in the end, a sagacious choice. Still, one thing is clear: The president has now officially stepped on a strategic landmine heading in the 2006 midterm congressional elections. What might have otherwise been a masterstroke moment to ignite and galvanize the conservative base–the people who show up to vote during midterm elections–has morphed into a missed opportunity.
Even if Harriet Miers proves to be a solid conservative justice, conservatives of all stripes have already united behind the view that this represents a major snubbing of the social conservative base. Virtually any of the usual names discussed–Michael Luttig, Janice Rogers Brown, Mike McConnell, Priscilla Owens, etc.–would have sent a clear signal to conservatives that Bush was still fighting their cause, that the licking of fundraising envelopes and endless precinct walking had all not been in vain.
But this threatens that.
Worse, the selection of Harriet Miers represents a huge missed opportunity to galvanize the base heading into the midterm elections, elections where the in-party traditionally loses seats. Now was the time for Bush to pick a fight–a major fight–with the Democrats over his next judicial appointment. Had he, for example, picked Janice Rogers Brown, Bush would have had a double win: 1) He would have reinforced his longstanding commitment to “diversity,” and 2) he would have boxed Democrats into a tactical corner by forcing them to choose between giving his nominee a fair hearing or pillorying yet another qualified black conservative nominee to the Supreme Court, thus exposing the Democrat hypocrisies on both race and merit.
It would have been a strategic electoral masterstroke and would have flooded GOP campaign coffers to GOP congressional candidates who, after watching the hearings, were “fighting mad” that the Democrats were intent on destroying a qualified judge whom they had previously confirmed for fear of allowing yet another brilliant black conservative to serve on the highest Court in the land, thus shattering the mythology of identity politics as an electoral bludgeon.
Instead, the president handed the Democrats the perfect rhetorical frame/narrative: Bush Cronyism. First it was Michael Brown. Then it was that Julie Myers. And now this. As Michael Brown might say, the Democrats and the MSM will now be, “Off to the races!”
Things can and may change, and Miers may turn out to be a solid conservative after all. But either way, the president’s nomination of Harriet Miers mires GOP chances to ignite the base heading into the critical 2006 congressional midterm elections.
–Wynton C. Hall is the co-author (with Dick Wirthlin) of The Greatest Communicator: What Ronald Reagan Taught Me about Politics, Leadership, and Life. He is currently co-authoring (with Caspar Weinberger) Home of the Brave: Remembering the Unsung Heroes in the War on Terror.