Verdun? Or Little Bighorn?

Yesterday, President Bush nominated Judge Samuel A. Alito, Jr. to the Supreme Court — after which, the Los Angeles Times’ Ron Brownstein today observes, “almost instantly … the two parties lined up like football squads that couldn’t wait to begin banging heads.” The press, too, “lined up,” like, let’s say, school kids anticipating a big after-school brawl.

So, what type of a fight might we expect? On what scale? And what are the stakes? Well, it depends on who you ask (and, in turn, who they ask).

“Alito Nomination May Bring Long-Anticipated Judiciary Fight,” a Fox News headline tells us today. Fox’s Jane Roh anticipates a “dogfight” among “partisan warriors on Capitol Hill” — in her lede, at least.

But Roh then spends much of the rest of her piece outlining why Democrats in the Senate (and left-leaning interest groups) in this “dogfight” won’t have a leg (paw?) to stand on (pausing long enough to give readers this confirmation hearings preview: “Alito’s legal acumen is expected to dazzle during his confirmation hearings, fans said”).

Why won’t this fight be fair? Well, Roh reports, “unless Alito has skeletons in his closet, some Democrats may find themselves having nothing to vote against, say court observers.” Which “court observers”? Jay Sekulow, for one, “chief counsel of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice,” who dismisses Democrats’ ability to get a filibuster.

One type of fighting Roh assures readers that they will not see this go-around is in-fighting (of the Republican variety). “The conservative rebellion against Bush after Miers was nominated exposed fissures among the president and the party, but Alito’s nomination seemed quickly to have brought establishment Republicans back together,” Roh reports. (We know this because Sekulow says so: “‘That’s over with,’ Sekulow said of the Republican rift.”)

In the end, Roh thoroughly demolishes her lede, reminding readers that “Democrats remain outnumbered in Congress, and may have to accept that Alito’s confirmation is one of the spoils of Bush’s two election victories.” So much for that “dogfight.”

Over at the Washington Post, Peter Baker’s take is every bit as vivid as Roh’s lede — but couched in caveats.

Baker tells readers that the swift and strong reactions from both right and left yesterday — emphasis ours, parenthetical comments ours — “could foreshadow a bruising ideological showdown over the future of the judiciary” and that this “seems to be the political confirmation battle that both sides [not to mention the press] have been gearing up to fight for more than a decade.” Cue Jay Sekulow to pronounce the end of Republican-on-Republican warfare: “The rift within the base was healed at 8 a.m. today. Bygones are bygones. Now we’re all unified again.” But Sekulow says he is still, Baker reports, “prepar[ing] for a slugfest” with his natural enemies on the left.

The headline on Todd Purdum’s New York Times piece today declares that Alito’s nomination was “Potentially, the first shot in [an] all-out ideological war,” with Purdum reporting that “Democrats responded to [Alito’s] selection … with far sharper initial fire” than they did to other recent judicial nominations. Turns out, Purdum’s “initial fire” is also “far sharper” than the rest of his piece, which is riddled with “buts.” “But it remains to be seen just how big the fight will be,” reports Purdum, “But it is not clear how widespread the appetite for all-out warfare will be among the public at large, or even among Senate Democrats, at a time of so many other pressing problems,” he writes. Purdum’s final “but” comes courtesy of an anonymouse: “But one top Republican helping to organize Judge Alito’s confirmation hearings suggested that the predicted fight may yet fizzle away” once Democrats realize that they do not have what the source calls “a winning fight to the death.” (Purdum explains that this source “spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the White House’s unwillingness to be seen as acknowledging that anything other than substantive concerns drive its actions.”) And, while Jay Sekulow’s name did not make it into Purdum’s piece, the sentiment of Sekulow’s sound bite did: “The White House and its allies are now squarely united,” Purdum reports.

In sum, there may be a “dogfight, “a bruising ideological showdown,” or an “all-out ideological war” on the horizon. Or maybe not.

But that isn’t going to stop the press from getting some sensational headlines out of the deal.

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.