The Republicans react, unhappily

Outside the Senate and the president's public relations team, it's hard to find conservatives who are excited about the nomination of Harriet Miers.

Published October 3, 2005 4:23PM (EDT)

Bill Frist, John Cornyn and Orrin Hatch have each taken a turn before the TV cameras this morning, and each has proclaimed himself excited about George W. Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers. Maybe we're just projecting, but it seemed from here that each displayed a remarkable lack of enthusiasm in the process. Frist was measured and halting as he introduced Miers. Cornyn read from the talking points he trots out each time the subject turns to the federal judiciary. And Hatch used words like "hardworking" and "good lawyer" at a moment when you might expect to hear more superlative superlatives.

What do they know about Miers? Probably not much more than anyone else. But they're likely hearing already that there's some serious grumbling about the nomination on the right -- grumbling that's different in both quantity and quality than the questions that were raised in the moments after Bush nominated the markedly more impressive John G. Roberts back in July.

When Bush selected Roberts, the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol called it an "important and courageous" decision. Today, Kristol declares himself "disappointed, depressed and demoralized." "It is very hard to avoid the conclusion that President Bush flinched from a fight on constitutional philosophy," Kristol writes. "Miers is undoubtedly a decent and competent person. But her selection will unavoidably be judged as reflecting a combination of cronyism and capitulation on the part of the president ... What does this say about the next three years of the Bush administration -- leaving aside for a moment the future of the court? Surely this is a pick from weakness. Is the administration more broadly so weak? What are the prospects for a strong Bush second term?"

At National Review Online, the posters are working themselves up into a collective lather. Rich Lowry wonders if conservatives will have to take back everything they've ever said about competence trumping diversity, while Ramesh Ponnuru sneers that the Miers nomination is an "inspiring testament to the diversity of the president's cronies. Wearing heels is not an impediment to being a presidential crony in this administration!"

David Frum reaches for a sports metaphor, but not the one John Roberts favored. Frum says the Miers nomination is an "unforced error." "This is the moment for which the conservative legal movement has been waiting for two decades -- two decades in which a generation of conservative legal intellects of the highest ability have moved to the most distinguished heights in the legal profession. On the nation's appellate courts, in legal academia, in private practice, there are dozens and dozens of principled conservative jurists in their 40s and 50s unassailably qualified for the nation's highest court ... There was no reason for [Bush] to choose anyone but one of these outstanding conservatives."

Michelle Malkin offers a similar view: "It's not just that Miers has zero judicial experience," she says. "It's that she's so transparently a crony/'diversity' pick while so many other vastly more qualified and impressive candidates went to waste. If this is President Bush's bright idea to buck up his sagging popularity -- among conservatives as well as the nation at large -- one wonders whom he would have picked in rosier times."

Conservative blogger and talk show host Hugh Hewitt isn't quite so devastated, but he's not exactly cheering from the balcony, either. He calls Miers "a solid B+ pick." Miers isn't as qualified as other short-listers the president might have chosen, Hewitt says, but Bush knows Miers so well that conservatives who trust him ought to feel comfortable that he wouldn't have named Miers to the bench if he had any doubts about her conservative bona fides.

But they're not buying it at, a site organized to back Bush's previous judicial nominees. One poster complains that Bush has "lied to" conservatives by promising to appoint justices in the Scalia/Thomas mold but then naming a "disastrous enigma on Roe" instead. Another calls the Miers nomination the "'read my lips' disaster" of the second Bush administration. And a third declares: "Karl Rove should go to jail for this, not Plamegate."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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