The Democrats Dilemma
The Senate Democrats are in a pickle, and it's all George Bush's fault.
Bush's pick of John Roberts for the Supreme Court is an outstanding pick from a political standpoint for several reasons. Virtually the entire US Senate approved him to the Court of Appeals less than two years ago by a voice vote no less. He's a man that the currently sitting Judiciary Committee members approved 16-3. And ALL of the members of the so-called "gang of 14" filibuster compromisers voted for him, which makes it hard to describe his current nomination as an "extreme circumstance".
This means that there is most likely a decent cadre of Democrats who would like to vote for Roberts (or at least wouldn't mind doing so), many of whom are "red state" Democrats and some of them up for re-election in 2006. They don't want to look out of touch with voters who are favorable towards a guy who appears so "normal". Which means it will be up to the liberal groups to try and define him as a wild-eyed radical and pressure their Democrat friends to oppose him. This will be the REAL (and fun) battle to watch.
Don't forget this is a political party under the increasing dominance of groups like MoveOn.org, under whose influence the DNC made "Screaming" Howard Dean its national Chairman.
Within the past months the DNC has taken to holding mass conference calls with various left wing bloggers to discuss and develop strategy. Before Roberts had managed to get to sleep the night Bush nominated him, Ted Kennedy and other leading liberal senators were on the phone with over fifty bloggers discussing how to oppose him. They will do everything they can to force the Senate Democrats to oppose him, and when the impending filibuster comes, the political pressure will be incredible.
If anyone doubts that they planned to be firmly in opposition to Bush's pick, regardless of who it was, just look at their activity early in the day of the announcement when everyone thought it would be Edith Clement. Anti-Clement talking points were flying about everywhere. The Internet was thick with liberal anti-Clement vitriol and Democrat talking heads were already hitting radio and TV talk shows loaded for bear.
Lest anyone think the liberals aren't playing for keeps here, please note that Robert's wife and her pro-life activities are already being bandied about as reason enough to oppose him.
By the time this thing plays out the Democrats (at least the "arch-liberal" and "running for President" varieties) will be forced to mount a filibuster. Which brings us back to the GOP threat of implementing the "constitutional" or "nuclear" option, which would involve amending Senate rules to forbid filibusters of judicial nominees which will put the filibuster compromisers square on the griddle.
The seven Republican members of the "gang of 14" will feel immense pressure to support a filibuster rules change and the seven Democrat members will be pressured to oppose it initially. I say initially because my theory is, at that point, they'll realize that the jig is up and they'll vote to end the filibuster of Roberts by voting for cloture and "sit their friends down", take a hug lump from the Democrat faithful for doing so and consequently save the judicial filibuster and live to "obstruct another day". Either that or they lose both the battle on Roberts and their long-term battle with Bush over the judiciary.
My guess is, after it's all said and done (which will be a lot), they'll take one for the team whether the team appreciates it or not. The Democrat faithful will feel betrayed and this will open the possibility of some damage to the cohesiveness of the Democrat constituency / coalition in the long-term.
In that sense, the "compromise" will have been a pyrrhic victory for the Democrats. Instead of "fighting the fight" and going down swinging (becoming heroes to the base and whipping them into a frenzy), they're about to be put in a position of directly opposing their core supporters. And when the inevitable blow-up comes, the Democrats will form a circular firing squad.
That's what makes this pick so brilliant. The conservative base gets what it wanted, a real conservative judge to replace a swing vote on the Supreme Court, and the White House gets what it wanted, credit from conservatives for the pick and to drive a wedge between the Democrats and their base.
Christmas came a little early this year.