President Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers — ironically made to avoid a confirmation battle — has touched off a battle the White House seems not to have seriously considered: a battle with the most reliable part of his own base, political conservatives.
The scale of the conservative rebellion against Miers is truly shocking. Within hours of her announcement the shots began from diverse redoubts. William Kristol, Rush Limbaugh, David Frum, Ann Coulter, George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Pat Buchanan, and a legion of bloggers, commentators, organizers and grassroots leaders openly questioned or opposed the nomination as a mistake — and a slap in the face to conservatives’ hard work on behalf of the Republican Party.
The Democrats are stepping back to see how this internal conflict plays out and The White House is in deep damage control. It will be tempting for the Bush administration to believe that, if it can solve the problem it created with Harriet Miers, it will have solved the problem with its Conservative base. But like most of the fights that occur years into an established relationship, this fight is about much more than just what it seems to be about today. There is a history here.
Triggered by this latest let-down, many Conservatives seem to be saying: after decades of debate, much volunteer work, gargantuan organizing efforts, and give-til-it-hurts fundraising, we have slowly built a Republican majority in a nation that was once overwhelmingly Democrat. Congress has gone from two-thirds Democrat to a slim, but stable Republican majority. Under conservative banners, the Republican Party has gone from a refuge for wealthy political hobbyists to the powerful ruling party it is today, and this — this — is the thanks we get?
In truth, many insults and injuries have been building-up within the Conservative movement to create the great pressure everyone saw released when Bush picked an unknown, unproven crony to fill one of the two most important appointments of his entire career as a politician.
Conservatives feel that they are taken for granted by the Republican Party and are the first group to be slighted when compromises have to be made. They are the fundraising base, the volunteer base and the turnout base, but they have been forced to swallow an unfathomably large expansion of Medicare so that Bush can be said to have “done something” about the fact that prescription drugs aren’t magically free.
They have had to watch in horror as Bush stumbled arm-in-arm with Teddy Kennedy to expand the Department of Education into a more powerful centralized bureaucracy than any Democrat ever dreamed of making it.
They have had to stomach a shameful increase in discretionary spending and outright pork, and they have been left to watch in horror the joke of no border enforcement in the midst of war.
And if Bush gets his way, they will soon be forced to swallow yet another risky “stealth” nominee to the Supreme Court, and then a stealth amnesty for the 10-20 million illegal aliens that have smuggled themselves into the Country in the last two decades.
These insults have been inflicted not in spite of the fact that conservatives are the most reliable part of the base — but because of this.
Republican strategists, chasing after voters outside the faithful base, look at Conservatives and whisper “Where are they going to go if we slight them?” Essentially, strategists believe that they can stiff conservatives repeatedly, then throw them a few bones on Right to Life or Gay Marriage, and in the end they are still going to turn out and vote against John Kerry or Al Gore or whatever imbecile the Democrats next settle upon.
In many ways, Conservatives fill the same role for the Republicans as Blacks fill in the Democrat party. They are loved as a great resource at election time. But in between elections, blacks are all but ignored, as the Democrats struggle to woo fickle swing voters with moderate-sounding mumbo jumbo.
Blacks are the most loyal of the Democrat constituencies, and so they do not earn much at all from the Democrats, who occasionally throw them a few rhetorical bones and promptly abandon them to chase after the more competed-for swing vote.
For Blacks, the solution to such neglect is easy: they need to start voting for select Republican candidates now and then. I say this answer is “easy,” because blacks have actually done quite well under Republican administrations, since economic growth is the best anti-poverty program yet devised. Leaving the Democratic Party thus solves both the problem of being taken for granted as Democrat voters (by both parties, and both thus ignore them) and it solves the problems of real life needs.
For Conservatives, the situation is somewhat worse because –being an ideological faction– they cannot find a real home in the Democrat party of Howard Dean, Hillary Clinton, or John Kerry. They are taken for granted by Republicans and yet have no place else to go, realistically.
So what are Conservatives to do?
To start with, not compromising on Miers could be a great fight for us. In an election, Conservatives abstaining or voting against the undesired Republican could result in a much, much worse candidate winning the contest. But the vote on a court appointee is simply up or down. Defeating Miers — if she does not show some staunch principle in the confirmation hearing — will simply result in the President’s having to name a second candidate.
That is, I believe, what we want, isn’t it?
When picking this next nominee, the President can choose to again fight both the Democrats and his base, or he can choose to fight just the Democrats and have Conservatives on his side again. (And if he were to choose a second unacceptable nominee, he could only watch as his Presidency entirely crashed and burned.)
Psychologically, a Miers defeat would make future Republican office-holders much more wary of stiffing Conservatives and thinking that no harm can come of it.
The primary argument made against Conservatives’ scuttling the Miers nomination is that such a defeat could hamstring Bush for the remainder of his term, preventing him from enacting any further great initiatives. Good. With the exception of his responses to the September 11th massacre and the tax cuts, his great initiatives have made most Conservatives feel quite ill.
Hamstringing Bush before the upcoming debate over amnesty for illegal aliens is not a price to paid, it’s a prize to be won.
Lasting damage might be done to Bush, but what about the Conservative movement? Unlikely. In fact, the confirmation of Miers is much more likely to harm the movement than the opposite being true. This is a fight that energizes the base. Capitulation and acceptance energizes no one.
Beyond Miers, conservatives should consider (at least temporarily) halting donations to the Republican Party and donate instead only to political advocacy groups that specifically support their beliefs on taxation, economics, small government, illegal immigration, education and other issues. These organizations can then pick and choose who among the Republicans deserves Conservative support.
(Alternatively, for the politically obsessed, you can pick like-minded individual candidates yourself and donate directly to them. Donating to the Republican Party means your money could go to Tom Tancredo or Lincoln Chafee, John McCain or Susan Collins. Money without strings attached carries no influence within the Party.)
Finally, Conservatives should dedicate themselves to becoming even more involved in the primaries, where true Conservative candidates are sometimes to be found. Like it or not, our next candidate for President is very likely going to be picked more than a year before the 2008 election, and that candidate will be chosen from among those who gain supporters and resources in the next few months. Let’s make sure our next nominee is as fond of Conservative principles as he is of Conservative support.
Every party takes its core constituents for granted — unless these constituents, just occasionally, play hard to get, or better yet, play hardball.
The game has already begun.