It appears that we have another stealth candidate for the Supreme Court, and it also appears to me that the president may have been too clever by half. Let me begin by noting that the nominee may be pro-life, may be a constitutional originalist, and may be a solid conservative vote on the court — not the swing vote that her predecessor was. Take all that as proven, in a hypothetical two years from now.
The problem is that the confirmation process is now, not two years from now. The danger for the president is in the possibility that conservative support for his nominees may erode, or evaporate entirely. And while the Democrats don’t have the votes to block this nomination, they and a small handful of disillusioned conservatives could do so, and rather easily.
The president is conservative on certain issues, but a conservative approach to fiscal issues is not among them. He has not vetoed any spending bills, and his response to Hurricane Katrina has been to promise a hurricane of federal money. Conservatives have been going along with this big government “conservatism” because they have believed it was the price they had to pay in order to get another Scalia or Thomas. It now appears to be a live possibility that they have paid this price, and have not gotten anything of the kind.
It may have taken a term and a half to do it, but President Bush may have, with this nomination, alienated his base. Delay is no longer in place to keep conservative yahoos in line, and the potential for revolt on the right is very real. And given how close the balance of power is in the Senate, it would not take much of a conservative revolt to undo this nomination. Of course it would odd to have the conservatives oppose her because she is not conservative and the Democrats to do it because she is. But odder things have happened, and the real intent of the Democrats would be to hurt the president. And the intent of the conservatives would be to prevent the president from taking away the reason why so many conservatives have put up with so much from this presidency that is not conservative. They have held their noses over a lot because of the Supreme Court. We will see how it plays out, but the president may have made a supreme misstep.