Posted on October 17, 2005 in Washington Watch

If the Bush Administration and the Republican Party didn’t have enough problems with Iraq and Hurricane Katrina, the past month delivered two new blows: the forced resignation of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay following his indictment for campaign finance infractions, and now the controversial and increasingly devisive nomination of the President’s own White House Counsel to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court.

One might suppose that the White House thought that Harriet Miers, a long-time Bush associate, was a safe bet to be confirmed to the High Court. She is a woman, and there has been strong pressure to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor with another woman. Because Miers has never been a judge and has not established a strong public profile on issues, it might have been assumed that it would be hard for critics to target her views. And because Miers had been a member of the President’s inside circle, it was probably assumed that Republicans would trust his judgment that, if confirmed, she would embrace a conservative agenda on the Supreme Court.

Despite the fact that Miers is, no doubt, a competent attorney and may very well be confirmed to the Supreme Court, still it appears that the Administration miscalculated on all three counts. The Miers nomination has caused an uproar, with reactions ranging from disappointment to outright hostility. The President has been criticized for “cronyism” by Democrats and Republicans alike. Some conservatives, especially have scoffed at the President’s claim that Miers is the “best person” he could find for the job.

In fact, the harshest criticism has come from conservative intellectuals, who dismissed, what they call, Miers’ “lackluster” credentials. With the sometimes moderate O’Connor leaving the Court, conservatives had hoped that she would be replaced with a high powered conservative with strong convictions and credentials. This would have changed the direction of the Court and the country for over a decade. Since so little is known about Miers’ views, there is concern that she will not be a reliable conservative vote. When Bush, in response said, “I know her, I know her heart. I know what she believes,” one conservative leader dismissed the President, saying, “Trust me isn’t enough”—a clear indication of the degree to which some conservatives appear to be losing confidence in their leader.

Similarly Mrs. Bush’s comments accusing Miers’ critics of “sexism” created an outcry of protests from conservatives.

Maybe the most troubling White House ploy was their effort at allaying religious conservatives’ concerns about Miers’ stand on abortion by pointing to her membership in a born-again Christian church, which the White House said was very “pro-life.” Just a few months ago when some pro-abortion activists expressed concern that the nominee John Roberts’ Roman Catholic faith might affect his voting on abortion cases, Roberts’ supporters were outraged. They replied that one’s religion should not be the issue. And Roberts himself said, “My faith, religious beliefs do not play a role.” Now, in Miers’ case, apparently religion and faith do play a role.

The Republican opposition to Miers is so pronounced that there were reports last week that even GOP Senate staffers were in rebellion. One was quoted as saying, “Everybody is hoping that something will happen and either the President would withdraw her or she would realize she is not up to it and pull out while she still has some dignity in tact.”

All in all, a tough blow for an already reeling White House and Republican Party. The combination of Iraq and Katrina has already driven the President’s job performance rating down to a very low 37%. DeLay and Miers aren’t helping Bush’s cause. To make matters worse there are reports circulating around Washington that the US Attorney investigating the Valerie Plame case (the case of covert CIA operative whose cover was blown when her name was leaked to the press, presumably because her husband was a critic of the Bush Administration’s Iraq war policy) may soon complete his investigation. There is fear and trembling in the White House that top Presidential advisor Karl Rove and/or top Vice-Presidential aide Lewis Libby may be indicted in the case. Given the importance of these White House operatives, indictments would be a bigger blow than all of the other problems combined.

Less that one year ago a swaggering George W. Bush emerged victorious from the 2004 elections talking about his mandate and political capital.

The swagger is gone and, it appears, so is the mandate. His social security reform proposal is dead, as is his hoped for permanent tax cuts. Bush’s own Republican-controlled Senate recently rebuffed him and amended the Patriot Act and last week overwhelmingly voted to ban the use of torture, rejecting Bush’s threat to veto this bill. Now even some Republican 2008 presidential aspirants are beginning to establish political distance between themselves and the sitting President. Not a good sign.

It is as if the bad news, blunders and tough breaks just keep coming, compounding their impact and making it more difficult for the President to rebound.

But President Bush still has more than three years left in his second term. A lot can still happen and if his strategists can figure a way out of this downward spiral and catch a few good breaks, he may still be able to regain lost strength. But if Bush’s troubles continue, he will face more problems at home and in the conduct of foreign affairs.

For comments or information, contact James Zogby

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