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Examining the conservative split over Miers

G.O.P. West Wing vets Pat Buchanan and Ed Rogers debate her nomination
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According to a survey published in Monday's "Washington Times," nearly half of the Senate Republicans -- that's 27 senators -- are unconvinced that Harriet Miers should be on the Supreme Court.  This chilly response is in marked contrast to the John Roberts nomination.  He won glowing comments from Republicans before heading into his hearings.

On Monday evening, MSNBC's Chris Matthews welcomed Pat Buchanan and Republican strategist Ed Rogers to shed light on the reasons behind this split among conservatives.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Is this split for real among Republicans? 

ED ROGERS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Well, it may be for real, but I think it's just temporary. 

I think, for the first time in a long time, the hearings are going to matter.  She is going to be asked questions that won't be just posturing and posing.  But people are going to ask questions where they want to hear the answers.  And the answers are going to matter.

MATTHEWS:  Suppose she gets a dunce cap? 

ROGERS:  ... Well, if-then that's trouble and she is going to get a lot of votes against her. 
But, having said that, I feel OK about this nomination.  I believe in the president. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you feel -- do you think the stakes are low?  ... That if she doesn't quite show the right stuff out there, he can pull her or ask her to withdraw and they will put up another guy who is smarter or what?   Why are you so calm about this?

ROGERS:  Look, I think that, number one, I believe in the president.  I will admit that.  I believe in this president.

I think, looking at his record on judicial appointees, looking at the record of what he's said about the Supreme Court during the campaign and in other speeches, he knows that this appointment is important. 

And if you would have told me before the nomination, he's going to appoint an evangelical woman who carries a gun, I would have winced and Pat Buchanan would have celebrated.  Maybe she's Pat Buchanan in drag.


MATTHEWS:  Well, I don't know.  I don't think so.

ROGERS:  Could be.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this, Pat.  How can the same group that vetted and brilliantly produced a John Roberts, who was smarter than any senator that tried to interview him and tried to bring him down, produce another candidate who seems to have nothing of his style or his ability? 

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think this was the president's own choice, Chris.  I agree with Ed.  I think the hearings are critical.  I think we have sort of frozen the linebackers.  Nobody is going to commit to her until they see and hear her.  And she is going to have to show real depth of philosophy ... and some knowledge and strength of character to stand up toe to toe with (Stephen) Breyer and the others. 

MATTHEWS:  But you could have said that about Dan Quayle.  I mean, couldn't this be seen as a female Quayle?

ROGERS:  People did say that about Dan Quayle.  And he had an election to resolve the issue. People are making-have doubts about her. And that was unfair. ...  But, having said that, now we're going to have a confirmation process. 

MATTHEWS:  President Bush Sr. wrote in his diary going into his second term, when he tried get reelected, I know I made a mistake about Quayle, but I can't admit it.  It's not just the P.R. around the guy.  The president ... he was a problem.

ROGERS:  Well, I don't know if any of that is analogous to this situation. I mean, the fact of the matter now is, she is now going to have a hearing.  And I think that's a good thing.  And if people have expressed doubt, doubt is fair. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree.  I agree. 

ROGERS:  Right now, closing the door and suggesting that she's not credentialed is unfair. 

MATTHEWS:  Arlen Specter, who has been very sharp lately, said, I'm going to let her tell me when she's ready.   Isn't that brilliant?  In other words, no matter how long it takes, she has as long as it takes to get ready for these hearings.  But, once she's in there, it is going to be tough for her. 

BUCHANAN:  I think that's right. Look, let me say, as one of the critics -- and I agree with Ed also  -- the president's appointments have been phenomenal.  They're better than Reagan's in a lot of cases.  People that know these people tell me, Pat, these are the best we have ever seen.

MATTHEWS:  You're talking about the appellate judgeships.

BUCHANAN:  Yes.  And what is inexplicable is, look, none of us wanted, the conservatives opposing her, wanted this fight.  We are wanting to be standing beside and behind the president as he led the conservative movement and the whole conservative legal community in the great battle of our lifetime, because this is his last chance.  They're going to lose Senate seats in 2006, Chris. 

And here's our last chance for the Supreme Court.  So, there is a tremendous demoralization that is going on. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let's talk about the intrigue here.  And this does sound like the plot last night on "West Wing," the idea that somebody on behalf of the president, Karl Rove, may have cut a deal with James Dobson of Focus on the Family and said, no matter what is said public during these hearings, this woman is one of us.  She's pro-life.

And now Arlen Specter, the chairman of the committee, who is a Republican, a moderate, and the Democrats, they want testimony from Karl Rove as to what kind of a deal he made. 

ROGERS:  Hey, good for Arlen Specter, good for Arlen Specter saying, if there is any suggestion of anything like that, we are going to clear it up in the hearings process. 

But here again, what we're headed for is hearings that really matter, where she is going to be asked questions.  Other people are going to ask questions.  And everybody should wait for that.  Everybody give her the benefit of the doubt and be fair until we get to those hearings. 

MATTHEWS:  What happens if she says things like they did, Fifth Amendment communists used to do it with; they just repeat some sort of line?

Suppose she says, 'I haven't been a constitutional lawyer; I haven't been a constitutional appellate judge; I'm not familiar with this case, but you will have to trust me?'

BUCHANAN:  She will lose.

MATTHEWS:  I mean, she's going to have to say that.

BUCHANAN:  She will lose.

ROGERS:  There will be some of that.  But she will some votes.

MATTHEWS:  She'll lose if she does that?

BUCHANAN:  Oh, look, you can't...

ROGERS:  She will lose some votes.  I don't know if...

BUCHANAN:  With Roberts, he's got a Cy Young record up before the Supreme Court.  You don't say, do you know this?  Even if he said, I don't want to recall that case, they would say, OK, that's a surprise.

MATTHEWS:  But he recalled every case...with nuance. He knew every case and particular aspects of it. 

ROGERS:  There may have been some rehearsal there as well.

BUCHANAN:  The president wanted an evangelical.  If he wanted an evangelical, you had one, attorney general of Missouri, governor of Missouri, senator from Missouri, attorney general of the United States, evangelical Christian.  Every conservative would have stood up.  John Ashcroft.  You would have had the fight of your life.  Why not Ashcroft?

ROGERS:  Well, we don't know...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what's the answer?  Why did he go with someone and who didn't have the distinction Pat is talking about?

ROGERS:  We don't know.  And we don't know if there was a calculus to have a woman.  But the fact is, we don't know. 

MATTHEWS:  You heard his line, didn't you? His selection process was to go down the hall looking for a woman. 


ROGERS:  Well, and it could have been.  And I'm-I was for that, by the way. ... In terms of picking of women, I was for picking a woman, period.

MATTHEWS:  Per se?  Any woman?

ROGERS:  Pat has sat in the "West Wing".  So have I.  Sometimes, people who superficially appeal -- sometimes people that have appealing credentials are not confirmable for private reasons. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you betting on her confirmation? 

ROGERS:  Yes.  Yes, I will bet on it.  I will take all comers on confirmation.

MATTHEWS:  Are you betting for it or against it? ... Not like it or not.  Are you betting for it?

BUCHANAN:  No, I don't think it's going to make it. 

MATTHEWS:  Interesting.  Divisions in the vision.  Anyway, thank you, Pat Buchanan. And, thank you, Ed Rogers.

Watch each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC.