Substantively, I'm pretty happy with the Elena Kagan nomination. Politically, though, I suspect the White House has made a mistake. The calculation seems to be that Kagan is their most confirmable pick. Why? Well, Senators like Orrin Hatch have said nice things about her in the past. Conservatives at Harvard like Charles Fried like her.
On the other hand, there are entry points to rile up the conservative base against her. There's Kagan's opposition to ROTC based on the military's discrimination against gays. She wrote a college paper that seemed vaguely sympathetic to historical socialism. Tea Party Nation has emailed its supporters calling her a "radical leftist."
Now, maybe these concerns will remain marginal in the face of a selection that enjoys the support of Republican elites. But the last 15 months have shown that, in the face of conservative outrage or organized Republican opposition, the support of a smattering of Republican elites tends to melt away very quickly. What Republicans are going to want to invite a Tea Party-backed primary challenge by voting to confirm Kagan? In the end, I think no more than a couple GOP Senators will be left standing. If the White House predicts a 70+ vote cakewalk, I suspect it's mistaken.
I think it's obviously true that Republicans would throw a temper tantrum regardless of whether the nominee was Kagan, Wood, or even Garland. Throwing a fit is kind of all Republicans do, nowadays. However, I think there might be a difference in terms of how the tantrum is portrayed. Diane Wood, fairly or not, was presented as the liberal end of the nomination spectrum. Hence, media coverage of the inevitable Republican freak out would have cast it as justified, or at least politically expected even under normal circumstances. The goal with Kagan, I take it, is for Republicans to flip out and for it to look unreasonable -- proof of the degree to which the party is hostage to its most extreme elements.
Of course, the problem with this strategy is that the media doesn't have a spine, and thus takes the very fact of a Republican hissy fit as per se proof that the fit is reasonable. But the analysis does, I think, go one level deeper than Chait takes it.