There is a lot of speculation as to Bush's strategy with the appointment of a Justice to replace Sandra Day O'Connor. For example, Brad Plumer in MoJo speculates that Bush will nominate a wing-nut, throwing the Senate into tizzies, before Bush finally withdraws the wing-nut, nominating a "compromise" nominee, who's distinguished from the first by, for example, raising a higher barrier to random killings of the poor by credit card companies. In response, Jeffrey Dubner on TAPPED riffs on a theme, but disagreeing that Bush will withdraw the nominee, forcing a showdown on the filibuster and the nuclear option. What's pretty certain is that, according to Atrios, the check is already in the mail: "all signs point to extremist."
I'm going with Dubner on this one, but I have a more expansive view on it than Dubner or, for example, Ed Kilgore at TPM Café. In Kilgore's view, this appointment is the big pay-off for the Christian right, the tasty treat at the end of a long expanse of being flogged like a mule for political points without much in the way of a sack of tasty religious oats on the way. I don't disagree with that, just as I don't disagree that Bush will nominate a wing-nut then try like hell to jam the wing-nut down SCOTUS's throat. But there's even more than that and to see this, draw back for a minute and think about Rasputin... er, I mean, Karl Rove.
Remember that the Bush administration has been built on Rove's "divide and conquer" strategy, provoking outrage through proxies--or increasingly on his own--while allowing the President to remain--relatively--above the fray. This nomination gives the administration to achieve both goals outlined by Dubner and Kilgore, as well as re-igniting the culture war mentality the GOP so successfully cultivated during the 2004 campaign. Directly put, the President and Karl Rove relish the upcoming nomination fight all on its own. Here's why.
Bush's poll numbers are in free fall. This goes both for Iraq in particular and his job performance in general. The Social Security and domestic policy pursuits on which Bush promised to expend political capital after the election have fallen flat (with, as has often been noted, his Social Security plan actually losing support the more people learn about it). The problem with these issues is that they're concrete, measurable, arguable and debatable. On this type of playing field, Bush has been a dismal failure.
But on the "values" issues, oh, the values issues. These let the administration take the moral high ground, at least as perceived by a distinct segment of the population, and beat their opponents with it mercilessly. Nuance, subtlety, and certainly respecting the position of those you may disagree with are thrown out the door. Terri Schiavo, abortion, gay marriage, you name it, it can be fought over. And there is no way to win any of these arguments. They're dogmatic arguments, they're argued on metaphysical bases, and they generate smoke and fire and heat and nothing of any consequence--other than the distraction so desperately sought by the Bush administration and so effectively exploited previously.
In this view, the more hard-core and divisive the nominee, the better. The arguments shift away from policy specifics, where most Americans don't back the administration, and back to shouting matches, where thuggish insult and bare power politics are heralded as defending America's moral heart from the decay of the obstructionist opposition. We'll see again the fight over the filibuster, the fight over right-wing moral values, the faux concern over "states' rights" (only an issue when conservative causes are threatened and something to be ignored or denigrated when desired, i.e. gay marraige, Schiavo, medical marijuana, and so on), the smearing of administration opponents or even those who aren't party-line dogmatists.
It's going to be a long, hot summer. Prepare for the ugliness of 2004 all over again.