STRATEGERY…. It’s only been about six hours since the political world learned of Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court nomination, but a battle-plan has been coming together since Justice Souter announced his retirement. That Sotomayor was a leading candidate from the outset means the president’s Republican detractors don’t have to scramble — they’ve been planning for this announcement for at least four weeks.
But that doesn’t mean there’s a GOP consensus.
Rush Limbaugh ironically called Sotomayor a “racist,” and said the shrinking Senate Republican caucus has to fight her nomination “as far as they can take it.” Scott Reed, a Republican consultant and manager of Bob Dole’s presidential campaign, said, “The G.O.P. has to make a stand. This is what the base and social conservatives really care about.”
Some fairly high-profile Republicans are offering some very different advice.
[S]ome Republicans warned that the image of Republicans throwing a roadblock before an historic nomination could prove politically devastating…. “If Republicans make a big deal of opposing Sotomayor, we will be hurling ourselves off a cliff,” said Mark McKinnon, a senior adviser to Mr. Bush and a long-time advocate of expanding the party’s appeal. “Death will not be assured. But major injury will be.”
Matthew Dowd, another one-time adviser to Mr. Bush, said … barring any revelation about Ms. Sotomayor’s background, Republicans could doom themselves to long-term minority status if they are perceived as preventing Ms. Sotomayor from becoming a judge. He argued that the party could not even be seen as threatening a filibuster.
“Because you’ll have a bunch of white males who lead the Judiciary Committee leading the charge taking on an Hispanic women and everybody from this day forward is going to know she’s totally qualified,” he said. “It’s a bad visual. It’s bad symbolism for the Republicans.”
“Republicans have to tread very lightly,” he said. “They can’t look they are going after her in any kind of personal or mean way. There’s no way they can even threaten a filibuster; I think a threat of that sort would be a problem, even if they didn’t do it.”
Whether the party takes this advice seriously will depend, at least in part, on whether Republican officials believe they can get away with it. The GOP base is, predictably, throwing a fit, and is making all kinds of demands of their party.
And while this fit puts the Republican Party in an awkward position, it’s also, as Kevin Drum noted, helpful for the White House’s larger strategy: “The wingnut wing of the Republican Party seems hugely energized by Sotomayor’s nomination and ready to go ballistic over it. This might be good for them in the short term (it’s a nice fundraising opportunity, brings internal factions together, etc.), but Obama, as usual, is looking a few moves ahead and understands that a shrieking meltdown from the usual suspects will mostly help the liberal cause: the American public already thinks the conservative rump running the Republican Party is crazy, after all, and this will help cast that feeling in stone. Most normal people think empathy is a good thing, not a code word for the dictatorship of the proletariat.”
Quite a conundrum for the GOP.