Samuel Alito: The reaction from the right

Bush needed to win back his base. He just did.

Published October 31, 2005 4:42PM (EST)

When George W. Bush nominated Harriet Miers to replace John G. Roberts as a replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor, the right reacted first with concern, then with outrage. Bush had promised to deliver a judge in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Instead, he'd given them -- well, what?

There's no question about what Bush has given the right in Samuel Alito, just as there's no question about why he has done so. The president is flailing. That wishful-thinking Google bomb has finally become a public-opinion reality: A new USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll shows that 55 percent of the American people believe Bush's presidency has been a "failure." Bush's approval rating stands at 41 percent -- lower, USA Today says, than both Bill Clinton's approval ratings during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and Ronald Reagan's approval ratings during the Iran-Contra scandal.

Bush is no stranger to low poll numbers -- his approval ratings have hovered in the 40s for quite some time now -- and he might have weathered the storm over the government's slow response to Hurricane Katrina, the indictment of Scooter Libby and the war in Iraq, where six more Americans were killed Monday. But the uproar over the Harriet Miers nomination struck Bush right were it hurt most: The Miers nomination cost him support from the GOP base, which in turn allowed -- even forced -- Republicans from Congress to California to begin to distance themselves from the president. The hardcore religious right could overlook ineptitude, dishonesty and even a disastrous war so long as the president would stop abortionists from killing babies and homosexuals from getting married. But when Bush nominated a justice who seemed a little squishy on abortion rights and gay rights -- and not particularly smart about either -- that base began to bolt.

No more. With Alito, Bush has moved back hard to the right, and his base is responding now with the sort of loyalty and gratitude the president seemed to think he could take for granted.

A sampling of the reaction from the right:

Sen. Orrin Hatch: "President Bush has hit a home run by selecting Sam Alito. Anyone would be hard-pressed to name another nominee with such a sterling and distinguished record."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist: "Judge Alito is unquestionably qualified to serve on our nation's highest court. And on the bench, he has displayed a judicial philosophy marked by judicial restraint and respect for the limited role of the judiciary to interpret the law and not legislate from the bench."

Sen. Sam Brownback: "I commend the president and congratulate Judge Alito on this nomination, and I look forward to the upcoming confirmation hearing, during which members of the Judiciary Committee will have a robust and, I hope, civil dialogue with the nominee about the meaning of the Constitution and the role of the courts in American life."

Gary Bauer: "Today, President Bush made an exceptional selection for the United States Supreme Court with the nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito. Judge Alito's integrity, experience and qualifications are beyond question ... He is a mainstream conservative who will uphold the best traditions of our nation's highest court."

Concerned Women for America chief counsel Jan LaRue: "We are utterly delighted ... We could hardly have gotten a better pick. I can't imagine that there is any possible way that [Democrats] could mount opposition sufficient to keep Judge Alito from being confirmed. They're making their usual noises, and some of them lack so much credibility that I stand amazed that anyone would listen to them. This man is exactly what President Bush promised he would do: To nominate people who are like Scalia and Thomas. This is a judge who is his own man, but he is clearly in the mold of either Scalia or Thomas."

Operation Rescue president Troy Newman: "We believe that this nomination may fulfill Bush's promise to appoint justices in the mold of Scalia and Thomas. We are trusting that we are now on the fast track to derailing Roe v. Wade as the law of the land."

By Tim Grieve

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

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