Conservative groups had threatened to walk away from President Bush if they didn't get a conservative judge. If Bush wouldn't do battle for them, they argued, then he wasn't worth electing.
Bush was clever: He gave the Right a conservative, but -- barring unexpected news -- the activists won't get their battle. Roberts is known more for his brains than his ideas.
The right-leaning Progress for America has pledged "an initial $18 million to combat dishonest attacks on Judge Roberts." But it's not clear that this pricey campaign is even necessary.
No fight. No fun. So flashy conservative Ann Coulter complained that Bush picked "a Rorschach blot" and a "Souter in Roberts clothing." The more the far Right complains that he might be a centrist, the better Roberts looks.
Besides, the more accurate description would be: He is a jurist who knows how to write laws from a conservative angle without using the loaded language. I read what I thought might be Roberts' most controversial decision: a decision that upheld government actions in a public-relations disaster of a case. As Roberts wrote, authorities handcuffed, searched and detained a 12-year-old girl "all for eating a single French fry on the (Washington) Metrorail station."
Because Metro police cite adults but detain children, the girl's family sued, citing unequal treatment. Roberts wisely noted that the Constitution discriminates by age -- it lists minimum ages for members of Congress and the president -- and noted that while there is reason to object to discrimination based on old age, "the concern that the state not treat adults like children surely does not prevent it from treating children like children."
"No one is happy about the events that led to this litigation," Roberts opened the opinion. But the law was not unconstitutional.
The media helped, too. For months now, news shows and opinion writers have been mishandling the next-nominee story. There was the scoop that Chief Justice William Rehnquist will resign. No, he's staying. (And why not? His brain is sharp, and his will is strong.) It turns out that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was retiring.
Pundits then were sure Bush would pick a Latino. He didn't. Bush will pick a woman. Laura Bush is pressuring him to do so. (As if.) And he didn't.
Tuesday, the scoop was: Bush will pick Edith Brown Clement. Oops. Wrong.
No, he'll pick Edith Jones. Oops. Wrong again.
Then, John G. Roberts is the real nominee, really. And Bush looks brilliant for picking a conservative nominee who already passed through the Senate without a "no" vote. What Bush did was so obvious -- picking a popular conservative -- that everyone missed it.
Because the prognosticators were so wrong, Bush looks brilliant.