The Spectacle Blog

Romney Attacks Santorum for Supporting Roberts and Alito

By on 2.23.12 | 9:51AM

In an amazing moment in last night's debate, Rick Santorum suddenly found himself under attack by Mitt Romney -- for seeing to it that the Supreme Court had two conservative justices.

As usual, the moment was turned upside down by the media.

In 2004, Santorum, then Pennsylvania's junior Republican Senator, famously supported Arlen Specter for re-nomination over the conservative Pat Toomey. To anyone paying attention in the day, it was crystal clear that Specter, if re-elected, would be the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a longtime goal of the one-time Philadelphia District Attorney. Toomey, a businessman, would not only be a freshman if elected, he wouldn't be sitting on the Judiciary Committee.

The dilemma for Pennsylvania Republicans was clear. While Specter had angered many with his treatment of Reagan nominee Robert Bork, he had rallied in 1991 to a strong defense of Clarence Thomas. In his typical prosecutorial style Specter had shredded Anita Hill's out-of-the blue accusations, grimly assessing her testimony as "flat out perjury." Seven years later, then-Senator and now Vice President Joe Biden admitted to Specter (as Specter recounts in his memoirs) that "It was clear to me from the way she was answering the questions, she was lying." In the end, his accuser's credibility in tatters thanks to Specter, Thomas was confirmed. One year later, in 1992, Specter almost lost his re-election bid at to a liberal feminist Democratic nominee because of it.

As conservative Pennsylvania Republicans watched the Specter-Toomey race unfold in the spring of 2004, there was a decided knowledge of what lay just over the horizon. With a re-elected George Bush, and Arlen Specter wielding the gavel of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the expected vacancies on the Supreme Court could in fact install younger conservative Justices who would be able to join conservatives Thomas and Scalia on the bench. The impact of a Court with a re-invigorated conservative wing was incalculable. Santorum, at considerable risk to his own Senate seat and after confronting Specter on the subject, endorsed his senior colleague. Two years later, Santorum did pay the price. His famous 18-point loss came at the hands of not just angry liberals but angry Toomey supporters seeking revenge.

But just as expected, those Court vacancies did appear. The conservative pressure on the Bush White House was so intense that when a second vacancy appeared before the first had even been filled, Bush moved Associate Justice nominee John Roberts up to the suddenly open Chief Justice spot -- and then sought to fill the vacant Sandra Day O'Connor seat with his untested White House Counsel Harriet Miers. There was an abrupt, heated rebellion in the ranks. Miers was withdrawn and the Third Circuit's Samuel Alito became the nominee.

Specter did as promised, skillfully wielding the gavel, barking back at an aggressive Ted Kennedy -- and getting both Roberts and Alito confirmed. Where to this moment the two sit as a solid core of the conservative majority on the Court.

It needs to be noted here that two years after Specter almost lost his Senate seat for his support of Thomas in 1992, Mitt Romney was running against Ted Kennedy for a seat in the Senate by promising he would never go back to those dastardly Reagan-Bush years. Years in which conservatives with names like Rehnquist and Scalia were appointed to the Court. One can only wonder whether, had there been a Senator Mitt Romney elected on that pledge rebuking Reagan and Bush, Senator Romney would even have voted for Roberts and Alito since his rebuke of Reagan and Bush is an implicit rebuke of Reagan and Bush appointees Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas.

Lost in the gotcha moment last night, in which Romney said that Obamacare -- the Son of Romneycare -- was made possible by Santorum's support of Specter, was the unspoken fact of the Supreme Court.

Quite apparently Romney believes the nomination and confirmation of Roberts and Alito was worth putting at risk to defeat Specter in 2004. Risking a Toomey defeat and a certain absence of Specter in the chair leading the confirmation fights for conservative Justices. One can talk all day long about Arlen Specter's liberalism or cynicism or whatever. But at the end of the day, keeping one's conservative eye on the ball meant getting two conservatives on the Supreme Court.

In short, whether anyone wants to say it or not, Rick Santorum played a key and much unappreciated role in getting that job done.

The fact that Romney seems clueless to the point is only one more indication that were he to be trusted himself with a Supreme Court nomination -- trouble.

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