WASHINGTON -- Two questions were asked in conservative circles Monday when it was learned President Bush had nominated his lawyer, Harriet Miers, for the Supreme Court. Question No. 1: "Is this what we fought for?" Question No. 2: "What was he thinking?"
The conservative Republican base had tolerated George W. Bush's leftward lunges on education spending and prescription drug subsidies to re-elect him so that he could fill the Supreme Court with conservatives and send it rightward. But the White House counsel hardly looked like what they had expected.
Nothing could have more quickly deflated Republican spirits. The antidote to the Iraq-Katrina malaise was the spectacular confirmation performance by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and Republicans eagerly awaited Act Two: confirmation of a successor to social liberal Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. This was one issue where the wind was at Bush's back, not in his face. But he robbed his legions of spirit with the Miers nomination.
Miers hardly seems the true believer the Republican base was anticipating when the president's agents spread the word last week that his choice would please conservatives. In 1988, she was contributing to Al Gore's presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee. She is listed as chairman of a 1998 American Bar Association committee that recommended legalization of gay adoptions and establishment of an International Criminal Court.
Presidential adviser Karl Rove, recognizing the peril here, was on the phone Monday morning assuring conservatives of Miers's intrepidity. The line from the White House was that Miers should not be compared with Justice David Souter, who was named to the court 15 years ago by the president's father and immediately turned left. While Souter was a stranger from New Hampshire to the elder Bush, it is claimed no president ever has known a court nominee as well as the younger Bush knows his fellow Texan. Skeptics are assured she is sound on abortion and other social issues.
Assuming those assurances are well founded, Miers's qualifications for the high court are still questioned. Members of Congress describe Miers as a nice person but hardly a constitutional scholar. Indeed, she might trip over questions that Roberts handled so deftly. People who have tried to engage her in serious conversation find her politely dull.