President Bush appears to be making little headway in attempting to sell the Supreme Court nomination of White House aide Harriet Miers to skeptical conservatives. Indeed, their initial reservations seem to be hardening into opposition.
Broad hints from the Bush camp that Miers' critics on the right were sexists and elitists only infuriated many conservatives. And the White House attempt to insinuate Miers' religion into the campaign for her confirmation, all the while denying it is doing so, has only stirred more controversy.
"Part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion," Bush said this week in defending his choice. And in one briefing, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said Miers' faith is "a part of who she is." He said that directly four times and twice indirectly.
And in giving an early heads up on the choice to James Dobson, a top leader of the religious right, senior Bush adviser Karl Rove assured him, in Dobson's words, that Miers was an "evangelical Christian, that she is from a very conservative church, which is almost universally pro-life."
What makes this wink-wink-nudge-nudge reassurance to social conservatives so jarring is that the White House argued strenuously that John Roberts' Roman Catholic faith was not a fair subject for his confirmation hearings to be chief justice.
In all of this, Miers, who by Washington custom cannot defend herself until her hearings start, has taken a fearful beating, being derided for her clothes, her credentials and, as a longtime Bush loyalist, an "office wife."
Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, likely reflecting the feelings of many other conservatives, urged Miers to take one for the team and voluntarily withdraw from consideration.
The problem with that is the lingering suspicion that the withdrawal wasn't voluntary. A consolation appointment to a federal appeals court would look like the face-saver it would be. And, given the image of swaggering toughness the White House likes to convey and having gotten Miers into this, Bush can't easily cut her loose.
The White House may have been naive in not anticipating a fight with its own supporters, but given his string of other setbacks, he's not in a position to back down from this one. Just getting his nominee to her confirmation hearings would clear a lot of hurdles, but next month is looking so far off.