President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to fill the crucial swing seat on the Supreme Court appeared to play out by the book. Senators on both sides of the aisle were consulted. Key conservatives were given a list of three names, including hers, and asked for comment. For the most part, there wasn't any.
Yet when the announcement came, the criticism came from a direction few expected: deep within conservative ranks. And Mr. Bush's efforts this week to reassure his base is making rifts within this highly diverse coalition more apparent.
Social conservatives want assurances that Ms. Miers will share their views on flash-point issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage, and that she is genuinely one of them.
Conservative intellectuals, on the other hand, want someone with the legal acumen to roll back the reach of judges.
If Bush's rally cry for Miers is beginning to echo across the megachurches of heartland America, it is falling flat in the urban think tanks that have defined the conservative revolution since the Reagan era. Insiders fear that the grand coalition that helped elect Bush is fracturing on the issue most thought would unite them against the Democrats and liberal interest groups. Instead, they're firing on each other.
"We were looking for somebody who could advance the cause of the right, move the court in our direction, and it takes a certain amount of intellectual power to accomplish that," says Paul Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation, one of the first of many conservative think tanks in Washington.
As a longtime conservative leader, he was consulted about the Miers nomination. "I will probably end up supporting her," he adds, "but I can tell you that ... the grass roots are just heartbroken by this nomination."
For social conservative groups, this week's reports that Miers is a genuine evangelical - and, in a conversion experience about the same time, a genuine Republican - may be winning back hearts and minds. After initial hesitation, they are now rallying behind her, albeit tepidly.
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