For the Republican Party, already reeling over recent suicidal moves, a fight over the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court seems doomed appears doomed from the start.
Such a fight would further erode support for the party among Hispanics at a time when the party needs to broaden its support to regain political strength.
Even some Republicans admit taking on Sotomayor is a risky strategy.
“The G.O.P. has to make a stand,” said Scott Reed, who managed Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign. “This is what the base and social conservatives really care about, and we need to brand her a liberal with some out-of-the-mainstream positions. Forget about cosmetics and ethnic heritage, and focus on her record.”
But some Republicans warned that the image of the party’s throwing a roadblock before a historic nomination could prove politically devastating. Republicans saw a dip in Hispanic support in 2008, after eight years in which President George W. Bush and his political aides made a concerted effort to increase the Republican appeal to Hispanics, the nation’s fastest-growing group of voters.
“If Republicans make a big deal of opposing Sotomayor, we will be hurling ourselves off a cliff,” said Mark McKinnon, who was a senior adviser to Mr. Bush and has long advocated expanding the party’s appeal. “Death will not be assured. But major injury will be.”
And while conservative activists and some Republican leaders outside the Senate are calling for a strong effort against the nomination, the reaction from some senators — who will actually vote for the nomination — has been notably measured, suggesting that they are not necessarily looking for a fight, barring some revelation in the weeks ahead.
Friends from my days in Republican politics tell me that the GOP’s lingering desire to stick with with dwindling conservative base is a suicidal move.
True conservatives, they say, left the party in droves during George W. Bush’s eight years in office and a fight over Sotomayor will not bring them back.
And Republicans aren’t the only ones who face risk with a fight over Sotomayor’s nomination.
There’s plenty of peril to go around.
Republicans may face a backlash if they’re seen as charging too hard against a nominee who’s both a woman and a Hispanic. Red-state Democrats will be under pressure from the right, which will make sure that their conservative-to-moderate constituents know all about Sotomayor’s most controversial views. And some GOP Senate candidates may find themselves on the horns of an unhappy dilemma: Do you play to the conservative base or to Hispanic voters who could play a huge role in their 2010 races?
But risk or not, there will be a fight.
Republican senators are speaking in cautious but measured tones about Sotomayor’s qualifications and fitness for the court while Democrats join the White House in singing her praises. But the outside organizations that have a major stake in a high-court fight are taking up warring positions.
Conservative groups brand her an activist who would impose her own views and ethnic and gender biases on her interpretation of the law and the Constitution.
"Equal justice under law — or under attack?" a Web ad by the conservative group Judicial Confirmation Network asks. "America deserves better" than Sotomayor, it concludes.
Liberal groups hit back with their own campaign to paint Sotomayor as an experienced and fair judge whose background gives her a better understanding of how the court affects real people and their lives.
"Principled. Fair-minded. Independent," asserts a TV spot by the liberal Center for Constitutional Values.