Did Bush Derail Nuclear Option?

Dick Morris, who’s generally annoying but usually a shrewd political analyst, spins a rather implausible tale of President Bush talking the Senate GOP leadership out of invoking the so-called “nuclear option” to require an up-or-down vote on his judicial nominees.

Why would he do such a thing?

President Bush and Karl Rove probably figured that they did not want the power to appoint judges without opposition from the Senate Democrats. They realized that without the filibuster there was nothing to stop them from nominating judges who would cling to a hard right-wing agenda on Roe v. Wade and other issues, permanently alienating much of the country and driving a stake into GOP efforts to reach out to independents and women.

Bush needs the filibuster so that he can nominate judges who will not drive a wedge into the politics of America. He needs an excuse to tell his far-right friends why he is not naming a new Clarence Thomas or William Rehnquist or Antonin Scalia to the court. Bush grasps that such an appointment would be a step that would shatter the unity he is achieving after his reelection. And he needs the filibuster to keep the loyalty of his base even as he disappoints their most earnest expectations.

Yeah. Right.

Look, I’m a bigger fan of President Bush than most. I think he’s brighter than he’s given credit for and even think he’s mostly motivated by what he geniunely thinks is good for the country. But there’s no such thing as a president who is going to expend political capital for the express purpose of ensuring that his own power is limited.

Further, left to his druthers, Bush would very much love to appoint a Scalia-type as chief. Unlike his father, Bush II is very much a true believer. He doesn’t need an excuse to cover shafting his core supporters.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Law and the Courts, Political Theory, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. bryan says:

    This is just the sort of thing you love as a columnist: a hypothesis that can’t be disproven. And the suggestion that Bush wouldn’t love to appoint a Clarence Thomas, especially, is laughable.

  2. Maniakes says:

    I suspect that the reasoning is that this is what Morris would have advised Clinton to do in an equivilent situation, and Clinton would have taken that advice.

    But Bush isn’t Clinton.

  3. J Rocco says:

    What Dick says makes eminent sense. We have to acknowledge the reality that Bush is driven by economic conservatism and not by social conservatism. However, it is social conservatives who have passion and get people to the polls. Unfortunately our social conservative brethren like you, just cannot come to terms with this reality.

    Heck, Bush appointed Ken Mehlman, a quite public gay man to head up the Republican party – just after winning an election where homophobes gave him the winning edge. How much more proof do you need?

  4. Maniakes says:

    just after winning an election where homophobes gave him the winning edge.

    Sure, many homophobes voted for Bush in 2000. So did many homosexuals. And many, many heterosexuals who are not homophobes.

    The margin in 2000 was so thin that you just as easily say that left-handed redheads put Bush over the top, and you’d be just as right.

  5. J Rocco says:


    I was talking about the 2004 election. Rove has said publicly that if not for the gay marriage amendments that were on the ballot in more than 20 states, Bush could not have won in 2004. The margin was not thin. Large numbers of homophobes really sealed the deal for us and Bush.

    This points to a great divide between the rank and file Bush voters for whom abortion and gay marriage are the primary issues and the power elites of the Republican party for whom the only issue is fiscal conservatism. I happen to fall in the latter group. Unfortunately in such a large country like the US, we cannot get power without catering to the illiterate masses. Fortunately for us, illiterate, evangelical homophobes have nowhere else to go.

  6. Attila Girl says:

    Ah. That was very respectful.

  7. McGehee says:

    Funny — illiterate haters seem to think they own the Democratic Party, and we’ve seen multiple times in the past that people can be drawn together by nothing more than hate even if they hate different people.

    And come to think of it, I don’t think the Gannon-obsessives are exactly pro-gay in their heart-of-hearts.