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Republicans Ready for a Fight

Even before President Bush introduced Samuel Alito as the next Supreme Court nominee this morning, Senate Judiciary Committee member Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) labeled Alito as a "nominee likely to divide America."  Minutes later, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman slapped Schumer on the wrist rhetorically, saying, "The Supreme Court selection process should be about American jurisprudence, not litmus tests for campaign fundraising."

The fight is clearly on.  Which side benefits most from a brawl over Alito?  The long-term winner is still hard to gauge, but Republicans were generally elated this morning about the prospect of a major dust-up. 

A high-profile skirmish over Alito and the conservative ideas he allegedly represents is seen by Republicans as a two-fer: It helps unite the party's base, which had been unhappy with the selection of Harriet Miers as well as the administration's policies on immigration and spending, and it  serves as a major distraction for a press corps and American public that would otherwise be focused on the indictment of Vice President Cheney's chief of staff Scooter Libby.

"What [conservatives] have been itching for all along is to have a battle of ideas," said Matt Keelen, a Republican lobbyist with Valis & Associates. "We believe our ideas win."

One high-level Republican strategist, who requested anonymity to speak frankly about the matter, compared the effect of Alito's nomination on the Republican base to that of anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan: "Where is Cindy Sheehan when we need her?" the source asked. "She just re-appeared and her name is Alito."  Sheehan's point is that as much as Sheehan's protests outside the president's ranch last summer rallied conservative support for Bush, Alito's nomination will likely to the same.

Roll Call Columnist Stu Rothenberg advocated a fight over a court nominee as a cure for what ails the Republican party in his Oct. 6 column. Click here to read it.

DSCC spokesman Phil Singer said Bush's need for a nomination fight is "a sign of weakness." Singer said the Alito nomination suggests Bush is "more interested in covering his political flank than bringing the country together behind a consensus nominee."

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 31, 2005; 10:41 AM ET
Categories:  Politics and the Court  
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