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Harriet Miers was just the spark that lit the fuse.

12:00 AM, Oct 26, 2005 • By EDWARD MORRISSEY
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OVER THE PAST DECADE, Republicans have ridden a wave of success that has carried them to a powerful position in a remarkably short period of time. While post-World War II America split White House time fairly equally between Republicans and Democrats, the Congress spent most of that period under the firm control of the Democratic party, especially after the mid-1950s. Even Ronald Reagan could not shake that grip, enjoying only a brief GOP majority in the Senate during his term in office.

In 1994 a new generation of Republicans, inspired by Reagan, but given an opening by Bill Clinton and his overreaching effort to nationalize healthcare, finally took control of Congress and started implementing the conservative agenda. Republicans achieved this massive success by focusing on the few hot issues that provided unity among the disparate interests of the conservatives, moderates, and libertarians who comprised the bulk of the party.

Cleverly bullet-pointed as the Contract With America, the GOP promised to reduce the size of government, return to fiscal responsibility, and reform Congress itself.

After a flurry of action that represented real efforts to reform Congress and welfare, the Contract with America seemed to lose steam, especially after Newt Gingrich lost his battle with President Clinton over the government shutdown. What momentum existed towards other goals, such as further entitlement reduction, tax cuts, tort reform, and redirecting the Supreme Court dissipated.

During this time, conservatives remained relatively united, which paid off with a surprise win by George W. Bush over Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election. Conservatives grumbled when Bush expanded the federal government's role in education (and increased education spending by 43 percent), but generally backed the president's proposals. Despite the misgivings of many conservatives, they supported President Bush when he rolled out a massive new entitlement program for Medicare prescription coverage--even when it turned out that the administration seriously underestimated the overall cost of the program.

Other policies made it more difficult for conservatives to stay in step with the Bush administration. Despite many promises to crack down on illegal immigration and secure the southern border, the administration largely ignored conservatives on this issue and failed to produce any significant efforts to address it, even four years after 9/11. The long-awaited transportation bill turned into the kind of porkfest that inspired the original Contract With America, but it escaped any threat of presidential veto. The widely-reviled McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act got Bush's signature, too. In that case, most conservatives focused their ire on John McCain, who co-authored this assault on political speech, and the Supreme Court, who upheld it. Largely ignored was the president's abdication of his responsibility to veto the legislation he himself had once called unconstitutional.

Why did the conservatives hold their tongues for so long? They focused on party unity for three reasons: (1) Bush fought Islamist terrorism with ferocity and tenacity, refusing to budge from his plan despite widespread derision from his political opponents and from much of the world; (2) Bush cut taxes and made sure they stayed cut; (3) Bush's nominations to the federal bench were mostly brave and bold choices which raised expectations for blockbuster Supreme Court nominations to come.

When the first SCOTUS seat opened up this summer, conservatives initially received John Roberts with some suspicion because of his thin track record of conservative thought. But they were won over by his brilliance, erudition, and undeniable track record of excellence. When the second seat opened, they expected either a movement conservative--such as a Michael Luttig or Janice Rogers Brown--or a Roberts clone along the lines of Maureen Mahoney to be the next nominee. What they did not expect--or want--was a stealth candidate with even less of a track record than John Roberts--and whose main qualification appeared to be that she has served as George Bush's attorney for the past decade.

The levees of unity broke and the bitterness of pent-up frustration burst forth in waves. In response to this criticism, the White House and its allies accused conservative Miers opponents as being elitist and sexist. Neither side seemed to recall the hard work done by both sides to advance various conservative causes over the years.