By Richard S. Dunham and Lee Walczak For several years, political bloggers of the Left, Right, and interplanetary variety have scorned Washington elites and what many dismiss as "MSM," the Mainstream Media, as hopelessly out of touch with America.
But when it comes to Web-driven furor over President Bush's selection of White House Counsel Harriet Miers for a Supreme Court seat, it's the right-wing blogosphere that looks out of sync with its own grassroots.
While conservative bloggers have sliced, diced, and otherwise eviscerated Miers, Bush's surprise pick to replace Sandra Day O'Connor, new polls show that the Web's chattering classes are magnifying her troubles. Out in the Real America, the one where "online" can still mean the place to hang your wash, conservatives don't share the bloggers' disdain for the unassuming Texas lawyer.
A VERY VOCAL MINORITY. An Oct. 6-10 Pew Research Center Poll found that just 9% of conservative Republicans want the Senate to reject Miers' nomination -- a modest increase on the 6% who opposed John Roberts, Bush's earlier choice for the high court. Only 14% of GOP conservatives worry that Miers won't be sufficiently conservative once installed on the bench.
Overall, 54% of conservative Republicans want to see Miers confirmed -- a tepid number that's significantly below the 76% who backed Roberts. But that's understandable, given that nearly half of the voters queried say they don't yet know enough about Miers to decide.
Clearly, those 9% of dissenters include a large number of skillful writers with access to blogs. A few examples of what they're posting these days:
[President Bush] took a surefire winner, a Supreme Court pick that should have inspired and motivated his base...and instead, because of pure political incompetence, this may turn out to be one of the biggest political debacles of the past decade for the GOP.
-- Blogger John Hawkins at Right Wing News.
By asking the First Lady to defend the nomination, the White House is implicitly admitting that the President's word alone has failed to carry the day: That, in other words, when he said, "Trust me," conservatives said "No."
-- Former White House speechwriter David Frum posting at David Frum's Dairy at National Review Online.
Frum isn't an isolated voice in cyberspace. From columnists George Will to Charles Krauthammer, from patriotblog.com to redstate.org, conservative bloggers and columnists have shocked the White House by showing how little they trust the Commander in Chief.
Simply put: Harriet Miers does not have the qualifications necessary to sit on the highest court in the land. There were (and still are I might add) better, and more qualified, candidates for this position. From Janice Rogers Brown to Michael Luttig, there are a plethora of judges which would fit in the mold of Scalia or Thomas. Miers should withdraw her nomination.
-- The conservative Everyman Chronicles
Republican consultant Charles Black, a longtime Bush adviser, acknowledges that many party activists are in a funk. They're "disappointed that they didn't get a well-known, brand-name conservative. They would prefer somebody that had a long track record on their issues." No wonder the Administration rushed to find some prominent religious leaders and social conservatives to vouch for Miers.
SEXIER STORY. Actually, the counterspin may be working. Pete Synder, president of New Media Strategies, which measures online communications for business clients, says by Oct. 14, about 60% of the postings on right-leaning blogs were favorable to Miers, with some 40% still critical of the nominee. "You're never going to get [the Weekly Standard's] Bill Kristol or [columnist and blogger] Michelle Malkin back," he says. "But the vast majority of [conservative Internet posts] are generally supportive. The more information that's out there, the more the Administration is selling Miers with the [GOP] rank-and-file."
If most right-wingers have remained loyal to Bush in the midst of this storm, then why is the Mainstream Media so full of stories about a GOP intraparty rupture? Because the Establishment press is focusing on the conservative opinion leaders who were critical of Bush.
After all, it's a bigger story if the Right denounces a conservative President than if the Left predictably attacks Bush. "The blogs created the spark," says one Republican strategist. "Cable-TV fanned the flames, and the forest fire spread quickly to the Mainstream Media."
NO RETREAT. Yet, the fire shows signs of being contained by the Bush Administration, at least for now. Does this mean that Miers is out of the woods? Hardly.
With doubts planted about her credentials, she obviously needs a stellar performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee to quiet skeptics. But Bush aides are convinced that the President's former personal lawyer and longtime confidante is up to the challenge, even as online conservatives keep pounding their keyboards in anger.
If Miers has other accomplishments that indicate why conservatives should trust Bush in her nomination, we've yet to hear that from the White House. Instead, we get attacked for our supposed "sexism," which does more to marginalize conservatives than anything the Democrats have done over the past twenty years -- and it's so demonstrably false that one wonders if the President has decided to torch his party out of a fit of pique.
-- Conservative uber-blogger "Captain Ed" Morrissey, writing on his site, captainsquartersblog.com.
Plenty of good reasons exist for why some GOP activists may be riled at Bush at precisely this moment. Angst is growing over the President's handling of the Iraq war, his blank-check response to the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort, and the White House's resistance to a crackdown on illegal immigration.
FROTHING AND FOAMING. But to construct a scenario of an open conservative rebellion over the Miers nomination is to mistake noise for the opening salvos of a revolution.
The rage on the Right side of the Web is real, all right. So was 2004's explosion of populist anger from Left-wing Deaniacs. Just don't interpret the clicking, clacking sound of online anger as the harbinger of a revolution. The blogosphere has way too much self-reinforcing hype for that.
Dunham is BusinessWeek's Washington Outlook editor, and Walczak is Washington bureau chief