10/21/2005

Wapo: The Conservative Machine's Unexpected Turn

All this because of Miers ? WTF ??!? She's not tHAT bad! -- law

Money Quote: "The days of the blank check have ended."


Tuesday, October 18, 2005; Page A17

For four years, the White House believed it would need an army to install President Bush's choices on the Supreme Court, and it set about building one. Political committees were formed, millions of dollars raised, coalitions of allied groups assembled, action plans mapped out, media campaigns scripted.

Yet now, as the president struggles to sell the nomination of Harriet Miers, much of Bush's army is refusing to leave the barracks -- and part of it is even going over to the insurgency...

The split seems to be evolving into one of the most profound schisms in years within a conservative movement whose unity has buoyed Bush through his most difficult moments and earned the envy of the political left. While conservative groups have disagreed over policies in the past, rarely have they turned against a president so normally aligned with them on such a central, legacy-building priority....

Through intermediaries and more conference calls and e-mails, White House officials are trying to lobby estranged supporters and reassemble the coalition.

But without their normal allies, White House officials are focusing on senators themselves. While some Republican senators have expressed qualms about Miers, the White House is counting on its ability to hold its caucus together. Bush allies in New Hampshire and Iowa are starting to pressure Republicans who want to run for president in 2008, such as Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.), to back Miers. And yesterday's Oval Office event was intended to quash talk that Bush might withdraw the nomination, officials said.

"If there is a third-party fight out there, you want your people fighting, no doubt about that," said a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing internal policy. But "the most important people to learn who she is obviously are the senators who will vote on her."

If the White House succeeds in pushing Miers through the Senate without the help of its allied groups, their influence may be reduced. At the same time, though, the White House could be left with a festering problem within its own party.

The broader nature of the split becomes clearer with each conservative declaration of independence from the Bush White House. David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, wrote yesterday that many of his friends "swallowed policies" they opposed out of loyalty to Bush.

"We've been there for him because we've considered ourselves part of his team," Keene wrote in an essay printed in the newspaper the Hill and e-mailed to fellow conservatives. "No more. From now on, this administration will find it difficult to muster support on the right without explaining why it should be forthcoming. The days of the blank check have ended."

Not all conservative groups have abandoned Bush. Progress for America, a group with close ties to Rove, unveiled a $10,000 Internet ad yesterday and has a Web site devoted to Miers. But it has not devoted as much money yet to her confirmation as it did to Roberts's...

Some conservatives have even begun raising money or circulating petitions in outright opposition to Miers. As Manuel A. Miranda, former nominations counsel to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), put it in an e-mail to colleagues, "Two weeks later, the nomination's friends have been its worst enemies."

The Conservative Machine's Unexpected Turn

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