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Grass-roots conservatives widen rift with Bush

- The Washington Times - Monday, October 17, 2005

Republican lawmakers and pollsters are reporting growing grass-roots hostility to the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers, while yesterday the American Conservative Union chairman broke with President Bush over the pick.

Rep. Scott Garrett, New Jersey Republican, said grass-roots conservatives with whom he has talked feel "let down" by the choice of Miss Miers and resent the White House dismissal of conservative skepticism as sexist and elitist.

"The White House is not doing itself any favors in using such language," said Mr. Garrett, who said he is "getting two responses" from constituents.

"We really just want to trust the president on this as we did on so many big issues in the past -- homeland security, Iraq. At the same time, there is a feeling of being let down, as if all the work conservatives have done in the last few years has been for naught."

Other Republican lawmakers are getting the same message from conservative constituents, particularly about the sexism imputations.

"My conservatives at home are irked by it," said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, North Carolina Republican. "They say it's a lame argument the left always falls back on. It irks our base votes but doesn't convince them of her worthiness to be on the court.

"As a conservative activist in my district said yesterday, 'We wanted a fight, a rallying point, something to get excited about.'"

The rift between the White House and movement conservatives is widening, with one pollster stating the problem Mr. Bush faces with the Miers appointment in stark terms.

"No grass-roots conservatives who I know or hear from and who are not on the White House payroll are supporting Miers," said conservative pollster Rick Shafton, who is based in Sparta, N.J. "What I'm asking -- since this is hurting Republicans so much -- is: 'Why are Bush and his people doing this?'"

A Washington-based Republican media consultant said on the condition of anonymity that "all our clients who are normally cheerleaders for the president have been refusing to appear on TV shows ... to support the Miers appointment."

Meanwhile yesterday, David A. Keene of the American Conservative Union vigorously criticized the Bush administration over the Miers nomination, saying conservative trust in the president was gone.

Conservatives have "swallowed policies we might otherwise have objected to because we've believed that he and those around him are themselves conservatives trying to do the right thing against sometimes terrible odds," he wrote. "We've been there for him because we've considered ourselves part of his team. No more.

"From now on, this administration will find it difficult to muster support on the right without explaining why it should be forthcoming," Mr. Keene said. "The days of the blank check have ended."

Mr. Keene said he was troubled most by "the way the Administration has gone about trying to demonize conservatives who have raised questions about Miss Miers" and added that "the ad hominem attacks ... will haunt the President regardless of how the nomination fight turns out."

Charles Black, who has advised every Republican presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan, called Mr. Keene's words significant, but said "he has left the door open for Harriet Miers to prove herself as a qualified conservative nominee."