Why Have Republicans Been So Bumbling on Sotomayor?
Mark Schmitt has a smart post on the conservative response to Sonia Sotomayor. Where, he asks, is the fearsome conservative message machine in all this?
Remember how intimidating the political right used to seem? Liberals used the phrases “echo chamber” and the "message machine money matrix” to describe what to all appearances was a disciplined, vast, and efficient set of well-funded organizations and operatives promoting bad ideas and destroying good ideas and good people. But where is the great echo chamber now? The cracked-up conservative reaction to the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court seems to rest in the hands of some isolated cranks -- “presidents” of letterhead organizations whose staffs consist of themselves and someone who books their TV appearances, like Wendy Long of the Judicial Confirmation Network, Curt Levey of the Committee for Justice, or Manuel Miranda of the Third Branch Conference.
None of them, nor the better-known cranks like Newt Gingrich, seem to have gotten the memo. The memo that says, for example, you don't just jump out of the box and declare Sotomayor a “racist.” Or the memo that would have reminded Miranda that “limp-wristed” is probably not a good word to use to describe Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell if you want to persuade him to let you back into the inner circle. Or, more basically, the memo that would say, let's decide whether we have a case against this nominee, and what the case is, and then work together to build it.
Mark thinks this is a bit of a mystery. I take it as further evidence of the old political trope that no party is ever as good as it looks when it's on top or as bad as it looks when it's on bottom. There's a tendency, I think, to assess the situation and decide that the Democratic strategy has been really awesome while the Republican strategy has been really crummy. But how many ways could this have gone? Democrats have a popular president and 60 votes in the Senate. Republicans don't.
It reminds me of a comment someone made during the campaign: There are some fights a political party is simply not supposed to win. But there's not really a culture of graceful submission in Washington. You could have imagined Republicans deciding that this Supreme Court pick was a freebie for the expanded Democratic majority and the newly elected, extremely popular, president. Unless he chose someone manifestly unqualified, they were basically going to sit this one out. But he didn't, and they didn't, and the combination of Obama's popularity and Sotomayor's evident competence has required a much more radical, racially-charged line of attack than might otherwise be preferable. You can't mount a comeback atop field goals, after all.
But given all that, the appropriate way to grade the Republican response is on a curve. The question is not whether it's been effective, but whether it's been effective given their structural position. They were never going to win, but are they losing worse than we would've expected? I think the answer to that is probably yes, but I also think that sort of question might diminish the fearsomeness Democrats remember Republicans possessing in years past.
Sort of related: Political scientist Lee Sigleman assesses the research on whether Supreme Court Justices time their retirements for political reasons.
(Photo credit: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
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