As the furor over the Harriet Miers nomination has grown, I’ve been wondering when somebody would finally produce an insider account of how, mechanically, the choice was made. Sure, there are plenty of theories, but not much in the way of actual information.That changed today. While it’s not exactly a tick-tock account, John Fund in the Wall Street Journal provides a peek behind the veil, and in particular helps us understand why the White House seemed to be blind-sided by the powerfully negative reaction.Read it yourself, but the basic story line is this: the moment John Roberts was nominated to become Chief Justice, Bush and his staff decided O’Connor’s replacement would be a woman. Miers started the usual intensive vetting process for the women on the short list. Andy Card suggested to Bush that Miers herself be considered. Bush agreed. Card ordered Miers’ deputy, William Kelley (who had just been hired) to carry out a quiet vetting of Miers “behind her back.” Kelley soon came back with a green light. Card formally proposed her nomination to Bush; POTUS signed off; Laura Bush jumped on board. Card told the rest of the staff, and angrily overrode objections. Total secrecy about the pick was imposed. It was announced according to a rigid schedule, and then all hell broke loose.The two things that really stand out about this account are:(1) Where was the Helmsman, Karl Rove in all this? Fund doesn’t say, though there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence kicking around that the post-decision political vetting of Miers was even more haphazard than the vetting of her qualifications for the Court. Is this because Rove was distracted by other tasks (e.g., overseeing Katrina recovery and trying to avoid an indictment)? Or was it because nobody, even Rove, wanted to raise objections about an appointment to which Bush was very committed personally? Or, worse yet, did Rove simply think he could quickly sell Miers to conservatives on grounds of the usual Machine loyalty, underestimating the growing unhappiness of the Right with W.’s overall performance? All of these factors may have come into play.(2) Card’s back-door vetting of Miers by her own deputy almost guaranteed a sloppy process. As Fund points out, the conflicts-of-interest this step imposed on Kelley were formidable–investigating his own boss behind her back for a position that might pave the way to his own promotion, knowing all the while the risks of becoming the messenger who would be shot for bearing bad news about Bush’s close friend. And presumably, Kelley had to do a lot of this on his own, without the resources or time available to Miers in her own, official vetting process. That’s the big irony here: the famously process-obsessed perfectionist Miers got her big break from a process that glaringly diverged from her own standards.And the price she and the White House are paying for that lapse in discipline grows higher every day.I normally wouldn’t quote from one of those columns now sequestered by the New York Times as “premium content,” but David Brooks today penned a pitiless dissection of Miers’ columns for the Texas Bar Journal in the early ’90s that illustrates the kind of material a serious vetting of her would have revealed. He supplies paragraph after paragraph of samplings from “the largest body of public writing we have from her,” and even aside from Miers’ mangled syntax and a fatal addiction to passive verb constructions, it’s not a pretty sight. (My own favorite: “When consensus of diverse leadership can be achieved on issues of importance, the greatest impact can be achieved.” Word up.)As Brooks himself concludes: “I don’t know if by mere quotation I can fully convey the relentless march of vapid abstractions that mark Miers’ prose. Nearly every idea is vague and depersonalized. Nearly every debatable point is elided.”And so it goes, another predictably negative revelation about a nominee whose main distinguising features are her work habits, a genial personality, and a devotion to church, family and most of all W.My gut feeling is that Bush let her down by exposing her to this ridicule. And though it’s hard to tell at this point, he may be exposing Harriet Miers and himself to a humiliating experience in the Senate.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
I read a Thomas Friedman column this week that really required a smackdown. So I supplied one at New York:
How much political capital should Democrats invest in a probably doomed effort to save the political career of Liz Cheney? Earlier this week, Never Trump Republican Linda Chavez penned a column urging Wyoming Democrats to take a dive this November in order to give the incumbent a chance to survive as an independent, assuming (as it safe) that Cheney will be purged in her own party’s primary. And now, in an apparent coincidence, in comes New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman suggesting a far more radical step by Democrats to align themselves with the small slice of Republicans who follow Cheney’s example in repudiating Donald Trump. He wrote:
“Is that what America needs in 2024 — a ticket of Joe Biden and Liz Cheney? Or Joe Biden and Lisa Murkowski, or Kamala Harris and Mitt Romney, or Stacey Abrams and Liz Cheney, or Amy Klobuchar and Liz Cheney? Or any other such combination.”
Friedman phrases this as a question, but clearly he thinks it’s a good idea given the “existential moment” America would face if Trump is allowed to regain the presidency in 2024. It’s a bit of a loaded question, too, since it postulates that nothing short of a previously unimaginable “sacrifice” by Democrats and Never Trump Republicans alike can stop Trump — and that it would, in fact, succeed in stopping Trump.
I certainly agree that Democrats dumping Kamala Harris to give their vice-presidential nomination to a conservative Republican who opposes legalized abortion and is a militarist by conviction and heredity would be a “sacrifice,” to put it very mildly. It would also be very, very weird. Friedman cites the recent establishment of a mind-bending coalition government in Israel to thwart Bibi Netanyahu as a development comparable to what he is suggesting. But as he acknowledges, Israel has a parliamentary system in which multiparty coalitions are the rule rather than the exception. A presidential system in which parties invariably run separate tickets for the top job is another thing altogether.
The U.S. has had exactly one example of multiparty fusionism in a presidential election. In 1864, in the midst of the Civil War, Republicans nominated Democrat Andrew Johnson of Tennessee — then serving as U.S. military governor of Tennessee — to run with Lincoln on a “Union” ticket. The experiment did not turn out well, beginning with Johnson’s drunken inaugural address in 1865 and continuing with the racist solidarity he exhibited toward ex-Confederates after Lincoln’s assassination, culminating in his impeachment and near removal from office. There are important reasons politicians sort themselves out into major parties, which should be apparent in an era of polarization over issues other than the scofflaw behavior of Donald Trump.
Is the threat of Trump’s return to the White House the equivalent of the U.S. Civil War? Not in itself, I would contend, though that horrific development could lead eventually to grave conditions comparable if not equal to a civil war. The premise that a Biden-Cheney fusion ticket would uniquely doom Trump to failure is even more dubious. There has never been much evidence of a mass following for Never Trump Republicans, and such as it is, it is mostly composed of people who would (and did in 2020) gladly vote for Biden and Harris. The baleful effect that replacing Harris with Cheney on the ticket would have on Democratic turnout could easily offset or exceed the alleged benefits of bipartisan and trans-ideological fusion.
So Democrats should say thanks, but no thanks, to Friedman for the idea of submitting their party to some sort of unwieldy and unnatural coalition of national salvation, so long as there is the slightest possibility of beating Trump the old-fashioned way. Liz Cheney deserves great respect for the courage she has shown in defying Trump at the expense of her own career, and if Biden is reelected with her support, perhaps she deserves an ambassadorship, a minor Cabinet post, or a major sub-Cabinet position. But she has no business being at the top of the line of succession to a Democratic president.