George W. Bush nominated John G. Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court on July 19, and two days later we were pretty convinced that his confirmation was a done deal. You can just about call him "Justice" now. According to a report in today's Washington Post, Senate Democrats won't be launching a major fight against Bush's nominee unless they discover something shockingly unexpected about him before his confirmation vote.
It's not because the president is strong -- Bush's approval ratings are in the tank, and the lack of progress on an Iraqi constitution and the sharpest spike in gas prices in 15 years aren't going to buy him any more political capital. Rather, it's a matter of mathematical reality. With 55 seats in the Senate, the Republicans can confirm Roberts without a single Democratic vote so long as the Democrats dont filibuster his nomination. Democrats have shown little interest in blocking a vote on the nominee, and they almost certainly would fail if they tried. By the Post's calculations, 15 Democrats -- or even more -- will cross party lines to vote in favor of the nominee. The Democrats couldn't sustain a filibuster even if they wanted to.
So why try? That seems to be the theory underlying the Democrats' approach. A scorched-earth confirmation fight might play well with the base, but it's unlikely to win any converts in the great American middle -- especially if it's obviously an exercise in futility from the very beginning. "No one's planning all-out warfare," a Senate Democratic aide closely involved in Roberts strategy tells the Post. "We're going to come out of this looking dignified and will show we took the constitutional process seriously."
The one downside -- aside from, say, getting a Supreme Court justice who may be hostile to abortion rights and a whole lot else the Democrats once held dear? If the Democrats stop short of a full fight over Roberts, they'll allow interest groups on the right to preserve their war chests for another confirmation fight down the line. It's happening already, the Post says: The conservative group Progress for America, which had planned to spend $18 million on the Roberts nomination, may be able to get away with spending less than half that amount.