On Monday I wrote about Mitt Romney’s problems in his effort to become the True Conservative Alternative in 2008 to John McCain and Rudy Guiliani, and suggested there may be a bit of a vacuum on the Right. Since politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, I suspect there will be a lot of trial balloons getting hoisted in the months ahead for dark horse candidates who could theoretically seize the mantle of the Conservative Movement. Indeed, it’s already happening.The latest name to emerge is Frank Keating, former governor of Oklahoma, who has been quietly working as head of–and presumably a lobbyist for–the national Life Insurance association since leaving office in 2003. Keating’s a Catholic and certified Right-to-Lifer with big-time law enforcement credentials, having been an FBI agent back in the day, and Associate Attorney General under Reagan. Interestingly enough, his resume boasts of service in an FBI anti-terrorism effort in the early 1970s. It’s hard to have gotten onto the anti-terrorism bus much earlier than that.Keating achieved some national notice during the Oklahoma City bombings in 1995, and was briefly on George W. Bush’s vice-presidential short list in 2000. He’s not exactly Mr. Charisma (he apparently has a bit of a problem with uncontrolled rage), but again, we’re talking about a conservative movement that’s exploring the bottom of the barrel looking for that unspoiled apple.Speaking of the bottom of the barrel, conservatives could always resort to Newt Gingrich, who is already more or less into the race. His main calling card is his claim to be the man who launched the very Republican Revolution in Congress that his successors allegedly betrayed, which nicely echoes the rationalization that so many conservatives are making in dismissing the ideological implications of the 2006 elections. To burnish his national security credentials, ol’ Newt has become a cheerful and outspoken advocate of the idea of morphing the Global War On Terrorism into a rootin’, tootin’, shootin’ World War III, with potential invasions of Iran and North Korea to ease the pain of Bush’s Iraqi fiasco. (Way back in the early ’80s, Gingrich spent some time urging state legislatures to adopt Lessons of Granada resolutions to celebrate that famous victory as an antidote to the Vietnam Syndrome; this is a guy who knows the value of starting wars to cheer people up after military defeats).On the down side, the Newtster has a few problems, including his serial marriages, his really bad Civil War novel, and his record as Bill Clinton’s punching bag during the last half of the 1990s. But hey, you can’t blame the guy for trying.Indeed, Newt makes a lot of sense as compared to yet another retread who’s talking about running in 2008: former Virginia governor and RNC chief Jim Gilmore. In case you’ve forgotten him, Gilmore’s the man who got himself elected as governor in 1997 on a completely irresponsible tax-cut proposal, and then created such a fiscal mess in Richmond that Republicans split and Democrats won two straight gubernatorial elections. The first Democratic win, by Mark Warner in 2001, occured when Gilmore was running the national Republican Party. Gilmore was unceremoniously dumped as party chair after GOPers lost both of the 2001 gubernatorial races.So why is this guy maybe running for President? Here’s Adam Nagourney’s report in today’s New York Times: “‘A void exists,’ Mr. Gilmore said in an interview. ‘There is just no conservative right now who can mount a national campaign.'”That’s what I’ve been telling you.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
In looking at Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization from many angles at New York, one I noted was the lonely position of Chief Justice John Roberts, who failed to hold back his conservative colleagues from anti-abortion radicalism:
While the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization will go down in history as a 6-3 decision with only the three Democrat-appointed justices dissenting, Chief Justice John Roberts actually did not support a full reversal of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. His concurring opinion, which argued that the Court should uphold Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy without entirely abolishing a constitutional right to abortion, represented a path not taken by the other five conservative members of the Court.
When the Court held oral arguments on the Mississippi law last December, the conservative majority’s determination to redeem Donald Trump’s promise to reverse Roe v. Wade was quite clear. The only ray of hope was the clear discomfort of Chief Justice John Roberts, as New York’s Irin Carmon noted at the time:
“It seemed obvious that only Roberts, who vainly tried to focus on the 15-week line even when everyone else made clear it was all or nothing, cares for such appearances. There had been some pre-argument rumblings that Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh might defect, perhaps forming a bloc with Roberts to find some middle ground as happened the last time the Court considered overturning Roe in 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey. On Wednesday, neither Barrett nor Kavanaugh seemed inclined to disappoint the movement that put them on the Court.”
Still, the Casey precedent offered a shred of hope, since in that 1992 case some hard and imaginative work by Republican-appointed justices determined not to overturn Roe eventually flipped Justice Anthony Kennedy and dealt a devastating blow to the anti-abortion movement. Just prior to the May leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s draft majority opinion (which was very similar in every important respect to the final product), the Wall Street Journal nervously speculated that Roberts might be undermining conservative resolve on the Court, or change sides as he famously did in the Obamacare case.
In the wake of the leak there was some reporting that Roberts was indeed determined not to go whole hog in Dobbs; one theory about the leak was that it had been engineered to freeze the other conservatives (especially Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who during his confirmation hearings had said many things incompatible with a decision to reverse Roe entirely) before the chief justice could lure them to his side.
Now it appears Roberts tried and failed. His concurrence was a not terribly compelling plea for “judicial restraint” that left him alone on the polarized Court he allegedly leads:
“I would take a more measured course. I agree with the Court that the viability line established by Roe and Casey should be discarded under a straightforward stare decisis analysis. That line never made any sense. Our abortion precedents describe the right at issue as a woman’s right to choose to terminate her pregnancy. That right should therefore extend far enough to ensure a reasonable opportunity to choose, but need not extend any further certainly not all the way to viability.”
Roberts’s proposed “reasonable opportunity” standard is apparently of his own invention, and is obviously vague enough to allow him to green-light any abortion ban short of one that outlaws abortion from the moment of fertilization, though he does seem to think arbitrarily drawing a new line at the beginning of the second trimester of pregnancy might work. Roberts’s real motivation appears to be upholding the Court’s reputation for judiciousness, which is indeed about to take a beating:
“The Court’s decision to overrule Roe and Casey is a serious jolt to the legal system — regardless of how you view those cases. A narrower decision rejecting the misguided viability line would be markedly less unsettling, and nothing more is needed to decide this case.”
In his majority opinion (joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett, along with Kavanaugh) Alito seems to relish in mocking the unprincipled nature of the chief justice’s temporizing position:
“There are serious problems with this approach, and it is revealing that nothing like it was recommended by either party …
“The concurrence would do exactly what it criticizes Roe for doing: pulling “out of thin air” a test that “[n]o party or amicus asked the Court to adopt …
“The concurrence asserts that the viability line is separable from the constitutional right they recognized, and can therefore be “discarded” without disturbing any past precedent … That is simply incorrect.”
One has to wonder that if Merrick Garland had been allowed to join the Court in 2016, or if Amy Coney Barrett had not been rushed onto the Court in 2020, Robert’s split-the-differences approach eroding but not entirely abolishing the constitutional right to abortion might have carried the day in Dobbs. But that’s like speculating about where we would be had Donald Trump not become president in 2017 after promising conservatives the moon — and an end to Roe.