When the Left Attacks Alito, Conservatives Flex Their Muscles

Last Thursday at 1 p.m., shortly after NARAL Pro-Choice America released a 24-page report attacking Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, conservative activist Manuel Miranda fired off an e-mail to grassroots organizations:

“The NARAL report on Alito is out and is attached. You are encouraged to do press releases as soon as possible, and anything else you can think of doing.”

Over the course of the next day, at least a half dozen conservative groups e-mailed statements rebutting the NARAL report or simply defending the nominee. Miranda, chairman of the 200-member Third Branch Conference, had mobilized the troops.

But it’s not as if these troops needed much mobilizing. With Alito getting little ink in newspapers — much to the right’s delight — conservatives were prepared to act as soon as they saw the left strike.

Eighteen years ago, that wasn’t the case.

The network conservatives have built today stands in stark contrast to the non-existent one that largely resulted in the failed confirmation in 1987 of another Supreme Court nominee: Robert Bork.

It took liberal Sen. Teddy Kennedy (D.-Mass.) only 45 minutes to set the wheels into motion to torpedo Bork’s confirmation.

“A lot of what was successful about Bork and [Clarence] Thomas, but Bork in particularly, was the element of surprise,” said Sean Rushton, executive director of the conservative Committee for Justice. “Who expected Kennedy to do what he did 45 minutes after the nomination was announced? Now that stuff is expected.”

Kennedy’s attack on the Senate floor might have contributed to Bork’s defeat, but today it serves an inspiration for conservatives committed to President Bush’s judicial nominees.

Playing Offense

The Alito nomination has driven conservatives to take a pro-active approach. Instead of waiting for liberal interest groups to attack, conservatives are playing offense.

Rushton yesterday put together a panel that focused attention on left-wing interest groups’ fundraising prowess, their agendas and what to expect in advance of January’s hearings.

The goal, Rushton said, was to spread word to the American public, and to a lesser extent the liberal media, about the radical agenda of the anti-Alito coalition. The hour-long discussion aired three times on C-SPAN between last night and early Wednesday morning.

“People on the other side can get away with a lot until there’s actually an honest opposition that is constantly asking what their motives are, who they are, pushing them back, and countering their attacks,” Rushton said.

After Chief Justice John Roberts faced a relatively easy confirmation in September, conservatives were bracing for a big fight over Alito. So far that hasn’t materialized, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t coming.

“The conservatives’ No. 1 asset right now is that the left has been crying wolf for three years,” Miranda said. “That has desensitized the media. That is the catalyst to the American people, and that’s why they haven’t gotten any traction.”

Miranda and others believe the left is prepared to fully unleash its advertising attack in January — the hearings begin January 9 — in order to put Alito in a compromising position when Senate Democrats will have an opportunity to question him.

Staffed and Funded

Despite improvements in communication and coordination, conservatives still face an uphill fight against the resources of liberal groups such as the Alliance for Justice, People For the American Way (PFAW) and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

“We’re still undermanned,” said Terence Scanlon, president of the Capital Research Center, which tracks the finances of liberal groups. “The conservatives don’t have the finances to support that kind of research.”

Scanlon estimated that Nan Aron’s liberal Alliance for Justice has 54 people combing Alito’s record. He said PFAW boasts a staff of at least 100. In comparison, the Committee for Justice is staffed with three and Scanlon has a total of 10. Miranda, meanwhile, flies solo. Other groups, such as the Judicial Confirmation Network and Coalition for a Fair Judiciary, also rely on the work of a few rather than many.

Conservatives haven’t let those disadvantages slow them.

“In 1987, e-mail and the Internet and the technologies we have now weren’t available,” Rushton said. “So I think the very fact that we can blast e-mail each other, the fact we can have conference calls in the morning to talk about what’s going on that day and plan releases matters tremendously.”

Rushton concluded: “The other team at this point has a lot of money, not such great ideas, and can pull their stunts only so many times. You can say the sky is falling only so many times. People will just quit listening and quit believing you.”