It’s all but certain that Bush will satisfy his conservative base by choosing a hard-right nominee in the aftermath of the Harriet Miers fiasco. I’ve written here about the political repercussions of such a choice. Democrats and civil rights groups are spoiling for the fight as are the far-right interest groups. If Frist, facing a Democratic filibuster, calls for a vote on eliminating the long-standing legislative tool used at various times by both parties, then you have all out war. Democrats have threatened to bring all Senate business to a halt which they no doubt would find some way to accomplish. It could be a long, cold “nuclear winter” in the Senate. The only question is whether the American people (shades of the Bill Clinton-Congress standoff resulting in an unprecedented government shutdown) would see things the Republican way or Democratic way in this constitutional crisis. I’d give the Democrats the edge here since Republicans would be the ones doing violence to Senate precedent.
In my analysis, I assume that all Republican senators would vote to eliminate the filibuster. But David Kirkpatrick casts some doubt on this in today’s Times:
…It was never certain how many Republicans would vote for the rule change. And the decline in the popularity of the president since then weakens his ability to rally public opinion against the Democrats as “obstructionists.”
Think of those Republican moderates like Olympia Snowe, Lincoln Chaffee and Arlen Specter who are beginning to realize that they will have to run in swing states with the possibly attenuated support of a majorly divided and distracted Republican party. All of them support abortion rights. Would they walk the plank for George over a nominee for whom they and their constituents feel tepid? It’s a tough call.
Kirkpatrick does a nice job of summarizing the utter disaster that yet another failed nominee would cause GW should Frist and the Senate Republicans fail:
Combining the uncertainty in the Senate with the president’s other political problems makes the choice of his next Supreme Court nominee a delicate balancing act, said Charlie Cook, editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
“He needs a fight that would help re-energize the conservative Republican base,” Mr. Cook said. “But at the same time he can’t afford a loss. He is in a profoundly weakened condition, and a loss on top of everything else that has happened all year would be terrible.”
Can he pull it off? If I were a betting man I wouldn’t put any money on him in his current state of weakness.