They would welcome that nuclear confrontation, not because they're pugnacious sorts and not because they want to rub Democrats' noses in it. Rather, it's because they believe we're past due for a public debate on the proper constitutional role of the Court.
Above all, they didn't want the president to send a signal with this nomination that he had abandoned his goal of picking a known originalist. Such a surrender could have a deterrent effect on future originalist judges working their way up through the system. It would also send the unmistakable signal that conservatives have unilaterally thrown in the towel over an issue that has motivated their grass roots like no other in the last 30 years.
When President Bush picked Judge Roberts, I was initially concerned that he was sending the signal of surrender then: that known originalists need not apply. Roberts was beyond qualified, but his judicial philosophy remained shrouded in mystery. In time, his early writings provided some comfort. I ended up cautiously optimistic that Roberts would be phenomenal, provided he didn't allow his reverence for stare decisis to outweigh his disdain for clearly unconstitutional precedent. Even after the hearings, however, we still don't know for sure.
With the Miers pick we have, at this point, another stealth candidate -- another conflict-avoidance solution. It appears that President Bush did not want to risk a confirmation fight, which is very disturbing because if he intends to make an impact in the balance of his term, other than in the War on Terror, he must be willing to fight Democrats on social and economic issues as well.
Indeed, the best insurance he has to guard against a lackluster second term is to approach all problems the way he has handled the War on Terror: with firm resolve and strong leadership, putting principle over all other considerations.
Conversely, the surest way he can end his presidency with a whimper is to abandon conservative principles and veer to the mushy, lukewarm middle -- the perennial prescription of so-called centrists and "well-meaning" liberals. To the extent he's suffered in the polls lately, it's largely because he has veered left in certain areas, especially domestic spending.
While the Miers nomination has been disappointing to many conservatives, what's done is done. As long as she's qualified (she doesn't have to be the most qualified to be confirmed), the selection is a matter of the president's prerogative. In the meantime, I hope that President Bush can regroup and approach the balance of his presidency with the same confidence and determination he has shown in the War on Terror.