A Pundit Scoreboard on the Miers Withdrawal

Charles Krauthammer wins!

The Bush administration appears to have chosen the Krauthammer Exit Strategy as the preferred method for extraction from the Harriet Miers nomination quicksand into which they found themselves sinking. Krauthammer's suggestion: Claim "irreconcilable differences over documents."

For a nominee who, unlike John Roberts, has practically no record on constitutional issues, such documentation is essential for the Senate to judge her thinking and legal acumen. But there is no way that any president would release this kind of information -- "policy documents" and "legal analysis" -- from such a close confidante. It would forever undermine the ability of any president to get unguarded advice.
That creates a classic conflict, not of personality, not of competence, not of ideology, but of simple constitutional prerogatives: The Senate cannot confirm her unless it has this information. And the White House cannot allow release of this information lest it jeopardize executive privilege.
Hence the perfectly honorable way to solve the conundrum: Miers withdraws out of respect for both the Senate and the executive's prerogatives, the Senate expresses appreciation for this gracious acknowledgment of its needs and responsibilities, and the White House accepts her decision with the deepest regret and with gratitude for Miers's putting preservation of executive prerogative above personal ambition.
Faces saved. And we start again.

Perhaps it was not orchestrated quite as artfully as Krauthammer outlined, but it's done. (For more, listen to this interview with Post White House reporter Peter Baker.)

The right seems to be having a mixed reaction -- pleased that she's out of the picture, but disturbed by the obvious blemish the whole thing is for Bush.

The question being raised now, especially by bloggers on the left, is was the Miers withdrawal planned all along. I, for one, don't think so. I simply cannot see any way that Rove or anyone else in the administration could have thought a Miers nomination was somehow a good strategy, unless they were specifically setting her up to be a distraction for when leak indictments came down, and that is outlandishly unlikely.

If indictments are announced this afternoon, though, does the Miers withdraw really distract from that? One guest on the Diane Rehm show this morning said the timing could "cushion" both stories. It seems more likely, however, that this would amplify both stories -- one compounding the other in the larger storyline of the "curse of the second term."

Debaters, what do you think?

By Emily Messner |  October 27, 2005; 10:43 AM ET  | Category:  Issue Updates
Previous: The Good Kind of Flip Flop: Davis Bacon Returns | Next: Right and Left Weigh in On Miers Withdrawal

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another story that needs to be cushioned is the release of the Volker report on the UN Oil for Food kerfufel (great new word!)

how many Bush/Cheney associates, donors, cronies will be identified in the report?

Posted by: lb | October 27, 2005 11:23 AM

Interesting stuff, but I have to admit that it is highly irritating to live in a world where Charles Krauthammer can be right about something.

Posted by: Bob P. | October 27, 2005 11:24 AM

Wow. Ms. Messner, this blog is great! It's a perfect mix of politics and current events.

As for your question, I'm not sure that the Miers nomination can cushion the indictments, unless of course, they came out on the *same* day. That would lead news organizations to split their resources.

The best possible scenario for the White House would be for them to let the Miers nomination die *the day before* no indictments were handed out. That way they could easily gloss over the failure of Miers and emphasize that no one was indicted. That gives the W.H. the chance to gain some momentum.

Conversely, the worst possible scenario would be for them to kill the Miers nomination, and then have Fitzgerald get an extension (or a new panel) for the grand jury. Only slightly less bad would be actual indictments handed out tomorrow. Either way, the W.H. loses control of the story.

Which will occur? I really hope the former doesn't take place. But I'm not going to bet on either one. If the White House knew that no one was a target (because the letters were already sent out), then their current move to withdraw Miers makes perfect sense...

Posted by: edward | October 27, 2005 11:46 AM


My best guess interpretation of this withdrawl is that Bush has been informed of two things:

1. He doesn't have the votes in the senate to get Miers confirmed.

2. He's been told indictments are coming.
One of the things people have overlooked about this president over the last five years is that, whether or not it is Rove's ideas or not, he's a very skilled politician.

So he cuts his losses with Miers, and then sends out a fireballing ultraconservative nominee. This accomplishes a couple of things.

1. It reunites his base behind him.

2. It at least partially changes the message and distracts from the indictments.

So then the indictments come down, but at the very least he's got a united platform of support from his most fanatic supporters to fight it and he has the benefit of a very big story to get at least part of the press attention off of the indictment issue. It makes it impossible for the conservative right to not support him through the time of the indictments because they want to get their fireballing ultraconservative's butt on the bench.

All-in-all, not a bad political move.

Posted by: | October 27, 2005 12:15 PM

That last comment was by me. Forgot to put my name to it.

Posted by: J. Crozier | October 27, 2005 12:16 PM

I think it's normal for people on both sides to scratch their heads at the whole Meirs nomination. It just doesn't make sense. It certainly seems to have been "a miscalculation." So, what remains to be seen, is whether that "miscalculation" was rooted in some (dark) behind-the-scenes strategy ("look conservates, at least you feel better about THIS candidate than Miers") or just ignorance. Same can be said for Iraq WMD- did they really know, yet lied just to get the war going (which wouldn't be stoppable once no weapons were found) or were they just misguided?

Posted by: Michael | October 27, 2005 12:39 PM

People I work with were blaming the Democrats for the Miers failure. Their reasoning: If Democrats had gotten behind her the nomination she might have had a chance and she was the best they could get. It's pretty hard to get behind someone who had James Dobson's approval, not to mention her inability to generate any support on Capital Hill. The lack of ability to fill out the Senate questionnaire was the last straw.
One thing that has been mentioned is that she had virtually no staff. On Wash Week commentators pointed out that the WH would have normally sheparded through the nomination but in this case it seems poor old Harriett was pretty much on her own. It makes me wonder, what kind of advice does she give the President? I guess she gets to keep that job but for how long.

Posted by: D. Pierce | October 27, 2005 12:48 PM

Bob P. wrote:

"Interesting stuff, but I have to admit that it is highly irritating to live in a world where Charles Krauthammer can be right about something. "

Best thing I've read all day - Thanks Bob!

Posted by: biobit | October 27, 2005 12:56 PM

The Republicans will try to put as brave a face on this as they can, but no matter how hard they try, it will still be a blemish. It shows that Bush can be rolled by the far right, it shows that they come up with lame excuses for her withdrawal by blaming the Senate for having the temerity to look at her paper trail, (the Senate does, after all, have a bit of a say in this), and it was all done without the Democrats doing a thing other than waiting and watching. If there's a way for the Bush administration to come out of this looking good, I'll be shocked and awed.

Posted by: Mustang Bobby | October 27, 2005 01:04 PM

All I can say about this whole episode is that it has been highly interesting and informative. I never knew the right wing could come out so forcefully against Bush. I thought I would never hear those on the far right actually sounding like they were asking for QUALIFICATIONS... and I still am not convinced that was what they were really steamed about. As far as whether we should have been more supportive of Miers... who knows if that would have been helpful or even a good idea. I have no real expectations of something good coming out of Bush as far as a Supreme Court nominee. So the best I can hope for is a good show, and I have gotten that in spades so far.

Posted by: Catherine | October 27, 2005 01:08 PM

I am with J Crozier on this one. Taking the analysis a step further, if the ultra actually passes the Senate, W becomes Reagan in the annals of the base. If the ultra doesn't pass, maybe they get the end of the "deal" on philibusters, but even better, W can turn around, nominate Gonzales, and the base "I tried your way, this is the best you can get." Oh, and if they have the next nominee lined up already, it comes out on Fitzmas Day or next Monday, burying the indictment story.

Posted by: Jon A | October 27, 2005 01:16 PM

Sorry, but that story was planted with Krauthammer to pave the way for a withdrawal after it was apparent Miers could not be confirmed. The leaks from the W.H. prior to Krauthammer's story were that the handlers were going to cancel further meetings with Senators to concentrate on preparation. Now we learn (through the Washington Times, perish the thought) that chief handler Larry Leo from the Federalist Society submitted his resignation (effective immediately) on October 19, 2005, signally the end of any conservative support for Miers. The next day, Krauthammer's column appears with the tidy scenario that then comes to pass.

Sorry, Ms. Messner, but Krauthammer continues his pattern of being incapable of original thought (as is true for the rest of the neocons).

Posted by: Bill W. | October 27, 2005 01:18 PM

I don't think that the Miers withdrawal would detract from the indictments at all, because the Miers withdrawal does not seem to be that big of a deal. She never had the support of Congress, so we knew all along that she would never be confirmed. At least that's how I felt.

The possible indictments are the big story here, and when they do come, as seems likely, this will dominate the headlines in the press and we will all soon forget about Miers. The consequences that could come of the indictments are far worse for the administration than accepting the withdrawal of a faulty candidate for the Supreme Court.

Posted by: Blueish Hue | October 27, 2005 01:21 PM

Bill W., your skepticism is well-founded. It's too easy for Mr. Krauthammer to be declared the omniscient oracle when he is fed the script in advance. It's better odds than being on the side of the house in Vegas. Bob P. need not be irritated, Krauthammer's record of incorrectly predicting any future event that isn't controlled by the White House remains undisturbed. The lesson to be learned is that the value of listening to people like Krauthammer is to know when to bet with the [White] House.

Posted by: Not a friend of Bill W. | October 27, 2005 01:50 PM

I still can not get over this! The more I read and hear, I can not get rid of the feeling that something does not add up. I like the comparrison to the Iraq/WMD case. What did the WH know when and what was the intension? With the backround knowledge how the WH uses any information and method to do what ever they want it seems to be not too far fetched that the Miers nomitation was a conspiracy after all. For what purpose who knows? Maybe to distract from Catrina? It for sure worked! This dissaster is almost out of the news. The same is true for Iraq. It almost seems like one bad news pushes out the last one. But someone earlier said, that it will accumilate. GWB aproval ratings are in a hole and falling. I admit I am confused.

The democrats are really facing a problem now. It seems highl likely that GWB nominates a ultra conservative and if it will come to fillibuster and nuklear option and ultimatly in a lokdown in the senat it will be bad for the country and negate the advantage the democrats were brifly enjoying.
The democrats are really facing a problem now. It seems highl likely that GWB nominates a ultra conservative and if it will come to fillibuster and nuklear option and ultimatly in a lokdown in the senat it will be bad for the country and negate the advantage the democrats were brifly enjoying.

Posted by: Oliver F-S | October 27, 2005 01:50 PM


I thought she resigned because she saw Mr. Stewart's interview of Bill Kristol on "The Daily Show."

Posted by: Pam W. | October 27, 2005 02:03 PM

I feel sorry for Ms. Miers, but to those outside the Washington Metro area, it was preposterous that she was even considered for the nomination. This is a lifetime appointment, folks. Most Washingtonians can't seem to get past the politics--Someone even said that the Dems should have supported the nomination for political reasons! A lifetime appointment for short term political gain??? No wonder Washington keeps screwing up the country: Their eyes aren't on the ball. This lady is a simpleton--not qualified to be on a town council, let alone the SC. Get with it, folks--this is WAY beyond politics!

Posted by: BNS | October 27, 2005 02:14 PM

Don't forget that Harry Reid had a hand in this, too. The division between conservative-for-conservativism Republicans and other Republicans was drawn sharply for the entire country to see. Not everyone wants Supreme Court justices whose positions on most issues are already decided. Some Democrats might have voted for Meirs, some not. Some Republicans definitely would not have, and it seems that her defeat in Judiciary Committee was all but assured. That would have been real egg on the face. But the point is, it's clear that no kind of moderate will get on the bench with the attitude of the most conservative senators. What does that mean about who comes up next? is the real question.

Posted by: Jazzman | October 27, 2005 02:20 PM

"Sorry, Ms. Messner, but Krauthammer continues his pattern of being incapable of original thought (as is true for the rest of the neocons)."

Can't agree Bill W.

For having no "original thought" they sure have run a slick machine. Think about it: a minority of elite intellectuals are able to motivate a "base" that probably shares few, if any, of their values. I suspect the NeoCons despise the right wing "base."

The problem with "liberals" is they tend to think in grand theories. When we think of ideas, we think in grand sweeping theories of Justice, or something. Our NeoCons think, but it is in terms of real power. I'm constantly reminded of the SPD vs. the National Socialist of Weimar. I read the works of the Social Democratic Party and admire their sentiments -- but they lost out to a party whose sole concern was power; and knew how to motivate a "base." At this point we should recall the "banality of evil."

I think the NeoCons howled so loudly over Meirs because their stooge actually tried to step out on his own. He nominated a card-carrying evangelical who he knew would vote against Roe. "Silly George, abortion is just a talking point, not an issue of power. We want a "philosophy," i.e., a means of maintaining power."

Rather than a carefully choreographed conspiracy, I think what we see is the NeoCons taken completely by surprise. Bush, like Robertson and Dobson, probably heard the voice of God. He just wasn't prepared for the wrath of the NeoCons.

Posted by: rlc | October 27, 2005 03:15 PM

Jazzman there hit the real genius in all of this right on the money. In the years since Clinton left office, Reid has been the most skilled politician that the Democrats have had. (Which admittedly isn't saying very much.)

If I remember right (which I hope I do), Reid himself is personally pro-life. So it makes sense that he probably said something to the effect of, "If you want an anti-abortion judge on the bench, then nominate Miers. I'll support her since I'm pro-life and she seems to be a moderate on most other issues." Being the smart guy that he is, I find it hard to believe that he wasn't already aware of Miers' support of the amendment to ban abortion. He probably also took into account how most people would react to a close crony who is not ULTRA qualified being nominated so soon after the Brownie incident.

However, he knew that Bush wasn't going to come right out and say it, counting on his base to trust him when it came to his nominee. Reid, however, knew that eventually pressure from the right to have a "sure thing" would mount and it would eventually come out anyway, which would at that point unite the Democrats against her.

But look at what happened in the meantime. Conservatives went into a panic by his "innocent" little comment that he had recommended Miers. They probably reasoned somewhat similarly to how those of us on the left would have reasoned had Pat Robertson come out and said, "I recommended this nominee to the president." Anyone who Robertson recommended has to be terrible. Conservatives probably reasoned the same about Reid.

So Reid makes that innocent little comment and watches Bush's united coalition of neo-conservatives, regular conservatives, religious conservatives, and nutcase conservatives start devouring itself. The Democrats do one of the things that Republicans have been doing for years...sit back and let the other side commit suicide.

Eventually, Bush has to put out information about Miers' true views on abortion to build support from the right, but by that time it is too late. She may have regained some assurance from the religious conservatives, but she's lost support everywhere else as being an unqualified suck-up crony. And now the Democrats are justified in opposing her because she is blatantly pro-life.

At this point Miers has to be withdrawn.

Now we get to the REAL genius of what Reid did. He can make another innocent little comment about Bush caving to the ultra-conservative "outside the mainstream" right wing of his party while simultaneously avoiding looking like a partisan because, guess what? He supported Miers! It was the other guys who wouldn't support her because she wasn't an obvious idealogue!

The Dems have now supported two Bush Supreme Court nominees in a row, so it will be much harder to claim that they are partisan obstructionists if Bush trots out one of his fire and brimstone conservatives and they fillibuster.

Net effect: Reid managed to give Bush several weeks of horrible press, defeat one of his Supreme Court nominees, and open NEW options to defeat his NEXT Supreme Court nominee without losing points in the court of public opinion. Brilliant.

Posted by: J. Crozier | October 27, 2005 04:00 PM

Forgot to mention that Miers donated to Gore's campaign before. I bet dollars to doughnuts that it was a Democrat who clued the media onto that one.

Posted by: J. Crozier | October 27, 2005 04:02 PM

Catherine said: "I thought I would never hear those on the far right actually sounding like they were asking for QUALIFICATIONS... and I still am not convinced that was what they were really steamed about."

I agree. I don't pretend to understand social conservatives' minds, but there was something very suspicious about their unified opposition to Harriet Miers, and I find it hard to believe their problem with her was really just about judicial qualifications.

The religious Right has a dialogue with the White House that we don't understand, because most of it goes through back-channels and the rest is in code. Among themselves, they use terms like 'strict constructionist' that are baffling to most of us but clearly have some hidden meaning for them.

It's all about Roe Vs Wade, of course, but they'll never admit that's their agenda because they know the American people don't back them. In fact, that's why they have to go the court route rather than just legislating on the issue.

At first I thought Miers' problems came partly from her physical ugliness. It's very difficult for ugly people to get ahead in American politics.

But clearly it's more than that. She's pushed the religious Right's buttons in some way that they don't like. Unfortunately the rest of us don't know how, exactly, because the Right is so shy about discussing its real Supreme Court agenda.

Bush will continue to pander to his base on little issues like this, but they are deluding themselves if they think he will lead them to the promised land of an abortion-free America. Outlawing abortions would cost Republicans votes and ultimately power...and it's only for votes and power that Ivy League patricians like Bush are willing to hang out with the gauche, petty bourgeois evangelical mob.

Besides, if Bush got abortion banned, as 'rlc' pointed out, he'd have no issue with which to cajole the evangelists into voting Republican. The GOP's game plan is to keep an abortion ban tantalisingly, and permanently, just out of reach.

Posted by: Jeb | October 27, 2005 06:37 PM

Hmmm my apostrophes and quote marks came out funny, sorry about that. Here it is again without them.

Catherine said: I thought I would never hear those on the far right actually sounding like they were asking for QUALIFICATIONS... and I still am not convinced that was what they were really steamed about.
I agree. I dont pretend to understand social conservatives minds, but there was something very suspicious about their unified opposition to Harriet Miers, and I find it hard to believe their problem with her was really just about judicial qualifications.
The religious Right has a dialogue with the White House that we dont understand, because most of it goes through back-channels and the rest is in code. Among themselves, they use terms like strict constructionist that are baffling to most of us but clearly have some hidden meaning for them.
Its all about Roe Vs Wade, of course, but theyll never admit thats their agenda because they know the American people dont back them. In fact, thats why they have to go the court route rather than just legislating on the issue.
At first I thought Miers problems came partly from her physical ugliness. Its very difficult for ugly people to get ahead in American politics.
But clearly its more than that. Shes pushed the religious Rights buttons in some way that they dont like. Unfortunately the rest of us dont know how, exactly, because the Right is so shy about discussing its real Supreme Court agenda.
Bush will continue to pander to his base on little issues like this, but they are deluding themselves if they think he will lead them to the promised land of an abortion-free America. Outlawing abortions would cost Republicans votes and ultimately power. And its only for votes and power that Ivy League patricians like Bush are willing to hang out with the gauche, petty bourgeois evangelical mob.
Besides, if Bush got abortion banned, as rlc pointed out, he would have no issue with which to cajole the evangelists into voting Republican. The GOPs game plan is to keep an abortion ban tantalisingly, and permanently, just out of reach.

Posted by: Jeb | October 27, 2005 07:02 PM

I give up, now the first post looks normal again.

Posted by: Jeb | October 27, 2005 07:03 PM

Seems to me she was not really a serious canidate for the job. It's ok, not to get hired on this the highest job in the land. Wow, can you go back to your old job Ms. It's not like she was unemployed !

Posted by: d_may | October 27, 2005 09:13 PM

My impression remains that Geo II is so thoroughly insulated from reality that he thought this nomination would be successful. 'Those whom the gods would destroy, they first get re-elected' (Euripides brother).

Posted by: DK | October 27, 2005 10:23 PM

It is incredible to me that so many of the comments here disparage Krauthammer as being irritatingly right about something for a chage, or as having no capacity for original thought, etc. The truth of course is that Krauthammer is an incredibly astute writer, whose knack for getting things exacctly right almost all the time is nothing short of wondrous and incredible. My hope is that he continues to write, and iritate the liberals that cannot tolerate his superior intellect, for many years to come.

Leonard

Posted by: Leonard | November 9, 2005 05:03 AM

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