Harriet Miers's withdrawal from Supreme Court consideration on Thursday illuminated the deep divide among evangelical leaders about President Bush's decision to nominate his personal lawyer. Some leaders, including Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention and James Dobson of Focus on the Family, enthusiastically backed Miers from nearly the beginning. The White House wooed some reluctant activists by discussing her evangelical faith. Still, many reserved public judgment as they scrambled to learn more about the President's longtime friend.

As Miers visited senators and prepared for hearings, conflicting revelations emerged about her views on issues, including abortion and the role of the courts. No one could pin down Bush's stealth nominee. So evangelicals argued about how much they could trust the embattled President, who had promised to nominate justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

"It was a lot better to withdraw the nomination than to go through a bruising battle and lose," said Richard Cizik, vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). "At least we didn't have to go on squabbling as a Christian family over this. There was a lot more behind-the-scenes squabbling among Christians than was reported.

"Harriet Miers displayed an incredible degree of character and integrity throughout the process, by everyone's admission. She showed more of the right stuff than the President did in selecting her."

In the end, many evangelicals could not reconcile their hopes for changing the courts with their worry about Miers's thin constitutional expertise. Bush's reassurances did little good.

But experience wasn't the only concern. The confirmation may have suffered ...

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