Assessing Alito: Who Won?

Steve Bainbridge argues, persuasively, that the Gang of 14 was a success: “There were 14 more votes for cloture than for confirmation, proving that the deal was able to prevent a filibuster of a qualified but controversial candidate.”

Still, Michelle Malkin points out, correctly, that Alito was only able to be nominated because conservatives rallied together to derail Harriet Miers’ appointment.

Digby looks at the numbers and sees a big win for the Left:

So we only got 25 Senators to vote for a filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee who, if defeated, would be replaced by someone just as bad by a president in the pocket of his radical right wing. Well.

Do you know how many votes the Republicans managed to get when uber wingnut Antonin Scalia was confirmed? 98. And Democrats had a majority. We didn’t have to even think about a filibuster. We couldn’t defeat Clarence Thomas and we had a majority, a huge push from women’s groups and a very dramatic set of hearings that went into the wee hours of the morning. It is very, very tough to do.


When it became clear that the vote was going against the filibuster, Diane Feinstein, a puddle of lukewarm water if there ever was one, decided to backtrack and play to the base instead of the right wing. That’s new folks. Given an opportunity to make an easy vote, until now she and others like her (who are legion) would always default to the right to prove their “centrist” bonafides. That’s the DLC model. When you have a free vote always use it to show that you aren’t liberal. That’s why she was against it originally — a reflexive nod to being “reasonable.”

Obama had to choke out his support for a filibuster, but he did it. A calculation was made that he needed to play to the base instead of the punditocrisy who believe that being “bold” is voting with the Republicans. Don’t underestimate how much pressure there is to do that, especially for a guy like Obama who is running for King of the Purple. The whole presidential club, including Biden joined the chorus.

So, basically, everyone is claiming victory. Could it be that they’re all right? Quite possibly.

Dibby is absolutely correct when he points out that it would have been inconceivable a few years ago for a Samuel Alito to be subject to a filibuster and then only win with a slight majority of the votes. Clearly, the influence of the DLC faction of the Democratic Party is waning and the DailyKos faction is in the ascendency. That Howard Dean and Nanci Pelosi are its most powerful leaders is no accident.

Malkin is right in noting that the conservative base is organized and, on some issues at least, unwilling to blindly follow their elected leaders when they disappoint. Still, because the Republicans are the governing party, they don’t have the luxury of simply pandering to their base. They have to forge compromises with moderate Democrats and dirty, nasty RINOs in order to get things done. So a win for Bainbridge and the Coalition of the Chillin’.

All this is much-needed good news for the GOP. As badly as things are going for the Republicans in a whole variety of areas, their opponents are moving in the wrong direction. They are making the base happy but making themselves unattractive to most Americans.

The polling on Alito bore this out, too. While he was both more conservative and had more controversial views on the record than John Roberts, a solid majority of Americans thought he deserved confirmation. Yet more than half the Democrats in the Senate thought he was so extreme as to merit filibustering, and almost all of them voted against him.

Update: Via Bill Ardolino, I see that bulldogpundit agrees.

FILED UNDER: General, , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. ICallMasICM says:

    ‘Clearly, the influence of the DLC faction of the Democratic Party is waning and the DailyKos faction is in the ascendency. That Howard Dean and Nanci Pelosi are its most powerful leaders is no accident.’

    That’s a win?!?!

  2. Anderson says:

    Time will tell. The 9th and 2d Circuits both struck down the latest partial-birth abortion laws. Steinberg is a sure bet to be reversed with Alito in O’Connor’s chair. But partial-birth abortion isn’t exactly popular. So Alito would have to alienate the public in some other respect.

    So whether Alito’s a “win” for the Republicans is really too early to tell. People polled know nothing about Alito, which is not an accident. We’ll see what kind of justice he makes.

  3. James Joyner says:


    As I note in the last two paragraphs, I don’t think so. But it’s hard to deny that the Dean-Kos wing is winning even if it’s bad long term for the Democrats.

  4. Mark says:

    The true test will come in 2008. If Feingold (or someone like him) wins the nomination, the Kossacks will have taken over the party. If, on the other hand, Mark Warner wins, than the Democrats still have plenty of sensible moderate people in the party.

    And no, you cannot spin a Warner nomination as a win for the Kos/Dean wing. If they jump on his bandwagon, it has nothing to do with ideology and everything to doing what is necessary to win – to hell with ideology.

  5. jpe says:

    Also, a win for those of us that would like to see judicial nominees assessed on their views of the law. The Dems tried to make it stick, but it didn’t. That’s fine. What counts is that people will try to make it stick; if a nominee’s views are sufficiently noxious, they’ll be booted for something other than the nebulous “qualifications” reason (which, in the case of Miers, seemed to be an alibi for fear she wasn’t pro-life enough).

  6. ICallMasICM says:

    Sorry – I don’t follow you. In the last couple of paragraphs you write about the GOP. Except for

    ‘Yet more than half the Democrats in the Senate thought he was so extreme as to merit filibustering’

    Do you really think they thought Alito was too ‘extreme’?

    I don’t think having the Dems kowtow to the Kossacks is a win for anybody, including the Kossacks. Unless you think it’s a benefit to have a big party fracture happen as soon as possible so we can move on. Say somehow Hillary or some Cindy Sheehan wannabe gets elected president with a minority in the Senate and a SCOTUS vacancy comes up. I think Lindsay Graham was tipping his hand a little bit in indicating the treatment that this person would get. I don’t think it’s a win for anybody and certainly not America.