One of the more fascinating aspects of the Harriet Miers nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court is the reaction of the social conservative base of the Republican Party. The howls of betrayal from everyone from Gary Bauer to Bill Kristol sound a bit like the cries of a jilted lover—someone who awoke one morning to discover that the partner they loved for years had transformed into another person. Sure, there had been little signs of problems in the relationship but nothing to presage such treachery. Factor into the equation the complicated psychology of the social conservative movement and the power of the blow Bush has landed on his faithful followers becomes clear.
Defined largely by a few issues—abortion, gay marriage, and religion in school among the most prominent—social conservatives matured as a political force under the tutelage of Karl Rove. They formed the activist core that propelled George W. Bush to the White House, twice. Along the way, the Bush administration has dribbled out little gifts to keep them motivated. The biggest was probably “faith based initiatives” which has allowed taxpayer money to go to church-operated social services. Rove has also seen to it that Bush larded his speeches with declarations of his faith and coded appeals. But despite Republican control of the White House and Congress, social conservatives realized that to achieve lasting change in America they need to dominate the Supreme Court. It is only in the highest court in the land that their agenda can come to fruition.
When Bush picked Miers as his next Supreme Court justice, he asked social conservatives to trust him?despite little evidence to support his contention, he promised she was one of them. Social conservatives have taken to calling this pitch “the stealth strategy.” The idea behind the “stealth strategy” is that it’s too arduous to get an activist judge through the confirmation process, so it’s better to pick a secret religious conservative with no record. There are two problems with this approach, according to social conservatives. First, it leaves open the possibility that once safely ensconced in a lifetime seat, the nominee will turn out not to be a true social conservative. More insidiously, for the movement faithful, many of whom see themselves as victims under constant attack by the mainstream, the stealth strategy brings with it an implicit repudiation.
“I believe with every ounce of my being that this strategy is fatally flawed,” wrote Bauer in one of his daily e-mails to followers. “It puts us in the position of appearing hesitant and ashamed of our pro-family, pro-life views, while Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton and the rest boldly promote their philosophy which has lost at the polls twice.”
From the more strident social conservative activist group Laptop Lobbyists there is a continuum between the appointment of Judge John Roberts and Miers. “In essence, [social conservatives] perceive that [Bush] put his finger to his lips and told us “Shhh… in case you guys haven’t figured it out, you are right-wing whackos, but since I owe you big time, if we all keep quiet, we can sneak these two by for you.”
The Miers nomination has triggered a dawning realization about President Bush among some social conservatives that his critics have long known: This president values cronyism over ideology. “Either [the administration] grossly underestimated the passion of the conservatives to move the court to the right, or they, once again, took the conservative base for granted and decided to go with a Bush loyalist who upon initial review does not measure up to other potential nominees,” wrote Bobby Earle in the e-mail newsletter GOPUSA.