Conservatives Split on Faith in Bush

The nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers (search) to replace Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has sparked a heated debate over whether President Bush has alienated one of his most prized voting blocs: conservative Americans.

A number of conservative talk show hosts, columnists and pundits have assailed Bush, (search) a self-described compassionate conservative, on the Miers nomination.

"By choosing a candidate essentially of stealth, and [who is] a crony, is a retreat into smallness, and that is really disappointing to those of us who have supported him on all the big things," columnist Charles Krauthammer told FOX News on Monday.

Krauthammer and Weekly Standard publisher Bill Kristol, both of whom are FOX News contributors, have called on Miers to withdraw her nomination. Syndicated columnist George Will said the Senate should either not confirm Miers or give up its authority over the nomination process for all intents and purposes.

But others say that while the president's stronghold conservative base may be rattled, it is not enough to shake the foundations.

"Is he, in a general sense, an extremely conservative Republican president? ... The answer to that is yes," Washington Times columnist Bill Sammon told

Conservatives were irked by the fact that Democrats like Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (search) had indicated to the White House that Miers was someone who wouldn't draw as much fire as other possible nominees who had been discussed. Conservatives say the courts are the last strongholds of Democratic activism, and the right nominee will put an end to that activism on the Supreme Court. But they say they aren't certain Miers is the right nominee.

"Republican presidents have appointed seven of [the] nine Supreme Court (search) justices. Many of them had the same sort of profile. We were told they were conservatives, but at the end of the day, they ended up not being, and the result is we still have a court that may force same-sex marriage on us, that may take 'under God' out of the Pledge of Allegiance, that may not overturn Roe [v. Wade]," said American Values President Gary Bauer, who sought the Republican nomination for president in 2000.

Conservative voices have also said Miers has an unproven track record on issues such as abortion, gay marriage and constitutional constructionism, the view that judges should merely interpret the constitution rather than expanding what is perceived as the original intent of the law.

Alan Keyes, another former presidential hopeful who heads the conservative group Renew America, said senators will have to make a judgment about whether someone they put on the court is going to uphold the Constitution.

"There is nothing on the record to suggest that Harriet Miers has the qualifications, that [she] has the understanding of the Constitution," Keyes said.

But Republican National Committee spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt pointed to a Monday report in The Washington Times that described a survey of state Republican Party chairmen and their positive views on the nominee.

"There is widespread support from conservatives around the country," Schmitt said.

Schmitt said they understand that Harriet Miers is not only "imminently qualified," but she is also "in lock-step" with the president's requirement of judicial restraint.

Schmitt did not comment on another story appearing in the same paper that day claiming that nearly half of Republican senators either had specific doubts about the Miers nomination or have specifically withheld their support until after her confirmation hearings.

In addition to the Miers nomination, Bush has been taking heat from conservatives on other issues, including his immigration stance that would allow some illegal immigrants to gain visa status, failure to curb pork-barrel spending like that for special projects earmarked in the $286 billion highway bill and the seeming support for unlimited federal funding for projected cleanup costs associated with Hurricane Katrina (search).

But Schmitt said that RNC officials don't have any concerns over Bush's conservatism.

"The president's a proud conservative ... His priorities reflect this and his agenda reflects this," spokeswoman Schmitt told

Schmitt pointed to Bush's calls to win the War on Terror, his goal of creating "an ownership society" through revisions to Social Security and other programs that give people more control over their income and his general "fiscal responsibility and discipline."

Despite national party support for Bush, several indicators suggest Bush's conservative base might be crumbling, former Bush speechwriter David Frum told Frum pointed at the president's 37 percent overall approval rating in the latest CBS poll, which is down from earlier polls.

"In the week since [the poll] ... we've seen almost every leading conservative opinion leader, jurist, come out against this nomination," Frum said.

The most recent FOX News/Opinion Dynamics poll, conducted Sept. 27-28, showed that Bush's approval rating was 45 percent, up from the poll's all-time low of 41 percent two weeks earlier.

Frum also said a survey by of 200 conservative bloggers showed 49 percent thought Miers was bad or terrible nomination. Of the respondents, 53 percent said it had lowered their view of Bush.

"We have every reason to fear that the president's support among conservatives will decline. I don't think it will drop radically, but I think all the indicators are ... that conservatives are really unhappy about this. And if his numbers among conservatives go down, his overall ratings will drop. He's already at a dangerously low level," Frum said.

And with the 2006 elections just around the corner, Frum said he sees Democrats being energized by Bush's troubles.

But some conservatives say they believe the cries of conservative alienation are overblown. Sammon said that despite the fact that conservatives are obviously unhappy about the Miers nomination and other issues, he has no questions about whether Bush is truly a conservative and sees no sign that Bush has lost all or even most of his support.

Looking at Bush's presidency historically, Bush has survived many political storms — the war in Iraq, embarrassment over Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse, a tough 2004 re-election, among them — and this just looks like the most recent, Sammon said.

"It's just hard to imagine President Bush, knowing this woman as well as he claims to know her, would knowingly put someone [on the court] who would go wobbly down the road," Sammon said.

Although he said it was a "shrewd" move by the White House to highlight Miers' evangelical Christian ties in an attempt to appeal to conservatives, a battle still looms. When the time comes, Democrats will begin churning out attacks on Miers, he said.

"It's going to slowly dawn on people — Democrats — that, 'Hey, are we getting snookered here?' " Sammon said.

And if those attacks are nasty enough, they could ultimately help boost Miers onto the court, just as similar ones like the pulled NARAL advertisement helped solidify support last month for now-Chief Justice John Roberts, he said.