WASHINGTON -- George W. Bush's agents have convinced conservative Republican senators who were heartsick over his nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court that they must support her to save his presidency. But that does not guarantee her confirmation. Ahead are hearings of unspeakable ugliness that can be prevented only if Democratic senators exercise unaccustomed restraint.
Will the Judiciary Committee Democrats insist on putting under oath two Texas judges who are alleged to have guaranteed during a conference call of Christian conservatives that Miers would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade? Will the Democrats dig into Miers's alleged interference nine years ago as Texas Lottery Commission chairman intended to save then Gov. Bush from political embarrassment?
Officials charged with winning Miers's confirmation told me neither of these issues is troublesome, but in fact they suggest incompetence and neglect by the White House. To permit a conference call with scores of participants hearing close associates of the nominee predict her vote on abortion is incompetent. To nominate somebody implicated in a state lottery dispute in the past without carefully considering the consequences goes beyond incompetence to arrogant neglect.
President Bush was not originally prepared for the negative reaction from the Republican base when he nominated White House Counsel Miers, his longtime personal attorney. Former Republican National Chairman Ed Gillespie, leading the confirmation campaign, over two weeks convinced skeptics that Miers is conservative enough. Whatever her qualifications, dubious Republican senators after hearing from Gillespie decided they could not deny his chosen court nominee to a president on the ropes. Bush has solidified Republican support not because he is strong but because he looks weak.
Miers remains so shaky, however, that she may not be able to survive confirmation hearings that go beyond sparring over how much of her judicial philosophy she will reveal. That is why John Fund's column in Monday's Wall Street Journal chilled the president's backers. He reported a conference call with religious conservatives Oct. 3, the day the Miers nomination was announced, that indicated a lack of White House control over the process.