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October 27, 2005

A Specter Haunts The Senate

Mark Schmitt makes a great point:

If all they had to do was satisfy the hard right, they could probably do it, especially if they don't worry about the nominee being female or Hispanic. But there is another factor they have to deal with now: Arlen Specter. A year ago, Specter was humbled and compliant. Bush and Santorum had saved his Senate seat from a right-wing primary challenge, and Bush had protected him when there were right-wing objections to his taking the Judiciary Committee chairmanship. But now the politics are very different. What's the right going to do to him now? What's Bill Frist going to do to either protect him or hurt him? Nothing. What good is the protection of a humbled White House? And knowing a little bit about Specter, I'm guessing that he feels highly insulted by the fact of the Miers nomination and that he was expected to push it through. An angry, empowered Specter is not a pretty sight, and my guess will be that if they send up a hard-right movement conservative, especially on choice, Specter will no longer feel any obligation to do anything to move the nomination forward. It's going to be much harder to satisfy both the angry right and the angry moderate than it would have been a month ago to just nominate one of the plausible candidates.

In addition to a weakened White House, Frist has completely lost control and the Senate has devolved into fractious warfare between a variety of powerbases looking towards campaigns for the presidency. It is, for party discipline purposes, the absolute worst of all worlds. Plus, Specter just won another six year term, he's got Hodgkin's disease, the Christian-conservative senator in his state desperately needs his help campaigning, and the senators on his committee like him. He may not be invincible, but provoking a fight with the sick senator over his committee's independence isn't the sort of thing the GOP would be wise to pursue. After all, what's the next step? A tell-all book from an angry powerbroker decrying the religious right's outsized influence? No one wants that. And no one will risk creating it.

The politics, now, have really changed. We'll see if the Bush administration has noticed.

October 27, 2005 | Permalink


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Tracked on Oct 27, 2005 7:10:50 PM


The religious right really wants a touchdown for their side, but the Senate and national dynamics suggest major problems for that tack.

It will be interesting to say the least, but it may take another nominee being thrown to the wolves before we get a new justice.

In the end, I'd bet on another Roberts-person in acceptability and record.

The political price of a extremist on privacy matters, or a minimalist/federalist on constitutional interpretation is higher than Bush's current political capital, and Bush has way fewer political debts to call in as deal closers.

I'm loving Bushes political pain on this choice. I accept that I won't like the outcome either way, but maybe he'll do something to further erode his waning powers and get smacked down once again before this is over.

Posted by: JimPortandOR | Oct 27, 2005 1:04:52 PM

The politics, now, have really changed. We'll see if the Bush administration has noticed.

I'm thinking.... no. But these are good points. Although I think one shouldn't discount the notion that by now or within a few months the party is going to cut Santorum loose as too far gone to possibly win, and Specter's usefulness in dragging Rick across the finish line (again) will be diminished. Still, Specter is right now beholden to nobody, and that's got to make them nervous.

Posted by: weboy | Oct 27, 2005 1:33:32 PM

I don't see any particular evidence that Specter is 'angry' about the Miers nomination. I also doubt that Bush has any plans to nominate a far right judge.

Let's imagine this scenario is correct though. I can't think of a bigger boon to Republicans than a far right judge being nominated and Specter blocking (or even not supporting) the nominee.

Talk about a way to energize the base for 2006 without any losses (as was rightly pointed out, Specter probably will never face another primary challenge.)

In midterm elections, a motivated base is even more critical than Presidential elections.

Posted by: Dave Justus | Oct 27, 2005 2:30:40 PM

A tell-all book from an angry powerbroker decrying the religious right's outsized influence? No one wants that.

Indeed, I sure don't feel like reading one. But seriously, what difference would such a thing make? I'd love to believe that it would, but we've been let down sooo many times at this point.

Off-topic: what has become of the Abu Ghraib videos? On Sep. 30, a judge ordered their release, giving the government twenty days to respond. Time's up, where are they? (I'd prefer to see Gonzales nominated first, if I can get a bonus Fitzmas present.)

Posted by: Allen K. | Oct 27, 2005 3:05:08 PM

He may not be invincible, but provoking a fight with the sick senator over his committee's independence isn't the sort of thing the GOP would be wise to pursue.

Ummmmm, Ezra? Why do you think they'd stop short of turning their loyal attack machine onto Specter the very minute he starts balking at their new nominee? Or even looks like he'll give them a hard time?

This is the Hardball GOP we're talking about here, not the mostly friendly adversaries of the Reagan days. If there is ever a topic that will get the mass bloviators on their feet, it will be the next nominee. Whoever it is.

Oh, and I firmly believe that the only reason we haven't been completely and totally raked over the coals about Miers is that there were about 200 highly prominent conservatives (and not just religious-right nutjobs either) who also felt her to be far underqualified. That, and only that, saved this from turning into a massive partisan furball and ethnic firing squad.

I don't think we'll be so lucky next time.

Posted by: Off Colfax | Oct 27, 2005 3:45:32 PM

Colfax -

It's not whether the Attack machine will turn on Specter - indeed, it didn't turn off during the Miers debacle - it's whether the Machine can win and cause Specter to wilt. And the point is that there's essentially nothing to threaten him with - and given Santorum's poor chances right now, attacking Specter is even more counterproductive if it makes the GOP look more out of touch with PA voters. That means all they get for their attacks is a pissed off Specter and the even bigger possibility that they'll be looking at the Casey seat this time next year.

The second thing is that the "next time" is informed by the fact that Bush will have had all the people now to choose from that he had then... and his first choice was Miers. And she was lousy, that's the point. That's not a position of considerable strength from which to burn the barns next time, however fired up the base may be.

Posted by: weboy | Oct 27, 2005 7:38:55 PM

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