In my last post, I painstakingly put together an analysis of the religious tradition that Harriet Miers has embraced, concluding that it doesn’t much provide definitive evidence of her probable views on issues like abortion. Imagine my chagrin when I picked up the newspaper the next day to discover that her sometimes boyfriend and fellow parishioner at Valley View Christian Church, the right-wing Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, has been running around telling anybody who would listen that there’s zero doubt about Miers’ views on abortion.In my own long discourse on Miers religious background, I concluded that the nexus between her religion and her judicial philosophy would probably remain a mystery so long as “she and her friends and associates decide to keep it that way.” Well, Hecht would certainly qualify as someone in that inner loop; after all, he’s the one who introduced Miers to Valley View about a quarter century ago, when she, a lapsed Catholic, was seeking a renewed spiritual life.And indeed, Hecht’s assertions seem to be having an effect in some circles. The influential conservative evangelical Marvin Olasky (best known as the coiner of the phrase “compassionate conservatism”) has placed great stock in Hecht’s assurances in his cautiously pro-Miers blog posts. More importantly, the ultimate Christian Right bigfoot, James Dobson, in his bizarre radio remarks yesterday defending his early support for Miers, mentions his friendship with “the man who brought her to the Lord” as one part of the “confidential” information persuading him. This is clearly a reference to Hecht.But is Hecht speaking for himself, for Miers, and for the White House? Well, it’s not like he’s some loose cannon with no insider connections. Karl Rove ran his first campaign for the Texas Supreme Court. He knows the president well enough that W. has bestowed him with one of his famous personal nicknames: “Hector.” It sure looks like he’s on a mission from the administration to help preempt any Christian Right revolt against this nomination.But the weird thing is: it may not be working that well. Yes, the latest C.W. among the chattering classes is that the intra-conservative fight over Miers is one of those Main Street/Country Club fights pitting the GOP’s Christian Right base against snobby elitists who care more about a prospective justice’s legal resume than about her willingness to overturn Roe v. Wade. Indeed, some point to the non-Christians prominent in the conservative opposition to Miers (e.g., David Frum, Bill Kristol) and luridly suggest a big-time Theocon/Neocon split.I don’t think so. Aside from Frum, most of the National Review luminaries (e.g., Rich Lowry, Ramesh Ponnuru) who are prominent in the revolt against Miers are serious Right-to-Life Catholics. Nobody can out-Main Street Phyllis Schlafly, another Miers skeptic. Nobody’s more focused on cultural issues like abortion than Paul Weyrich. Tony Perkins, Dobson’s comrade-in-arms in the Colorado Springs Empire, has been notably neutral on the nomination.And even Dobson himself is expressing doubts and fears on Miers and the abortion issue, noting in the radio address that he will have “the blood of all those babies” on his hands if he guesses wrong about her views.You have to figure at this point that the White House is playing a dangerous double game on Miers, trying to get the word out to the Cultural Right that she’s a sure vote to overturn Roe, without providing any evidence that could blow up on her during the confirmation hearings. The fact that the Cultural Right is split on Miers is an indication this preemptive strategy has failed, which means that conservatives as well as Democrats are going to press her and the White House for clearer answers to their questions.My guess is that “Hector” will now shut up, leaving Rove and company to come up with a new strategy for threading this particular needle. It won’t be easy.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
While mulling some recent material from The Bulwark, I thought I’d explain something to the converted “Never Trumpers” the outlet represents, and did so at New York:
For a while now I’ve had a guilty-pleasure reading habit: The Bulwark, that semi-official outlet of Never Trumpers who view themselves as having definitively broken with the GOP thanks to their former party’s thralldom to Donald J. Trump. I share its contributors’ belief that they (the tribe usefully described by Miller as Red Dog Democrats) represent not just a self-promoting claque of elite scribblers but a real if marginal faction of the Democratic Party, having burned a lot of bridges on their way out of the GOP. Their views appear to parallel those of a significant number of suburban Republicans and independents who voted Democratic in 2018 and 2020. And given the very close balance between voters of the two parties, as reflected most recently in 2020, Democrats really can’t afford to contemptuously reject any potential adherents, however alien or even repugnant they might find their backgrounds.
So it’s understandable when Bulwark co-founder Charlie Sykes expresses frustration that Democrats refuse to consider their pleas for policy concessions on grounds of holding old grudges:
“The spending. The wokeness. The repeal of the Hyde Amendment. I could go on …
“These are difficult times for folks on the center-right, who’ve tried to join Democrats in a loose alliance to protect the Republic from Trumpism …
“Litmus tests are applied: it’s not enough to be pro-democracy, NTers are also expected to embrace the elements of the progressive agenda — from free community college, to abortion, rent moratoriums, police funding, transgenderism, CRT, social spending, and the candidacy of Greta Thunberg for sainthood.”
Sykes fears it’s all very personal, and warns, “If you cancel moderates/conservatives for their past sins, you don’t have a coalition.”
Here’s the thing, though: It’s not really about the Red Dogs. Yes, I’m sure it’s been tough for them to watch Democrats largely come together around a legislative program that’s significantly more progressive than the one advanced by the Obama administration. But Democrats have been coalescing around the basics of the Build Back Better agenda for some time now. That the famously moderate Joe Biden now embraces it is a sign of how the party has slowly evolved, not some sort of betrayal or surrender to the left. And anyone who paid close attention to the 2020 presidential primaries should have understood that there is less distance between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders than between Joe Biden and the Joe Biden of the 1990s.
Part of what has happened is simply a resolution of internal conflicts among Democrats that left them defensive and at times incoherent. A classic example is one that Sykes mentioned: abortion policy. For years, Democrats claimed to value reproductive rights even as they accepted significant limitations on them: e.g., the Hyde Amendment, which made abortion services, unlike any other medical services, ineligible for any sort of federal support. That amendment, along with acceptance of some largely symbolic restrictions on rare late-term abortions, and the whole “safe, legal, and rare” messaging introduced by Bill Clinton, represented concessions to a significant bloc of Democratic voters and Democratic pols who did not recognize reproductive rights at all.
That has changed over time. Anti-abortion Democratic politicians are a rare and shrinking breed, and there are now significantly fewer anti-abortion Democratic voters than there are pro-choice Republicans. Most Democrats, including Joe Biden, have made the leap into a more coherent and unified position. They aren’t going to turn back the clock to satisfy ex-Republicans, but they aren’t insisting on a “litmus test” just to annoy or exclude them, either. The same could be said for other policy tenets once beloved by a significant number of Democrats — from fiscal hawkishness to armed interventionism to an openness to “entitlement reform” — that remain attractive to the newest proto-Democrats. As for the idea that Democrats are some sort of rigid ideological cult: Come on, seriously? Look at what’s going on with the attempted enactment of the Build Back Better reconciliation bill. If this is an intolerant and exclusive political party, I’d hate to see a loosey-goosey one try to function. It may just be that the issues Red Dogs fret about may lie outside the still relatively loose bounds of party unity.
This doesn’t mean Red Dogs should despair, but it may mean another painful reevaluation of priorities, recognizing that most have already had to sacrifice a lot of old allegiances and even the habitual language used to make sense of the political world. In many respects, the Never Trumpers resemble their spiritual (and in some cases biological) predecessors, the neo-conservatives. These were people who broke with the Democratic Party out of a conviction that Democratic views on national security made continued party loyalty impossible. But most of them retained many views that horrified their new Republican allies until they accepted the inevitable role of a factional minority and grew to accommodate or even share the policy positions and ideological language of the GOP, which was increasingly dominated by conservatives with their own ideological-consistency demands.
Most Red Dogs have no illusions about the party they’ve left and understand their constituencies are too small to form a third force or demand concessions from a position of strength. Most, I suppose, will get used to the strange and sometimes lurid landscape of the Donkey Party. Others will embrace the posture of the gadfly, the people of no party or coalition. But it’s really not personal. It’s just politics.