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The Garland Silence

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To expand on Paul’s post below, there is obviously no chance that Merrick Garland is going to get a hearing — let alone be confirmed — before the election. And even if Clinton wins with a Democratic Senate, it is still highly, highly unlikely that he would get confirmed by a lame duck Senate. To give you the tl; dr version, the argument that he will be confirmed is superficially plausible — Garland is the best Republicans could get, so why not confirm him? But the problem is that it’s flatly inconsistent with how the Republican Senate conference has consistently acted in the McConnell era. Again and again and again, they’ve passed up the chance to make marginal policy gains in favor of total obstruction. Any Republican who voted to confirm Garland would be subject to attacks within the party and be vulnerable to a primary challenge. There’s no reason to believe that the typical Republican senator would be willing to take that risk to get a justice who votes with Ruth Bader Ginsburg 87% of the time rather than 95% of the time. And remember also that in the very tight time frame of the lame duck session there would have to be a near-consensus among the Republican Party to allow the nomination to proceed. There is no reason whatsoever to believe that such a consensus exists, and it would be remarkable for the the Senate GOP to break with their long-standing practices for a relatively minor substantive benefit.

I do, however, think that the radio silence at the DNC about Garland is interesting in itself. It’s striking that the Democrats didn’t even try to make an issue out of the unprecedented obstruction of Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. But I don’t think this has anything to do with signaling Congress or anything. Rather, what it tells you is that Merrick Garland has no particular constituency within the party. I can’t prove the counterfactual, but I find it hard to believe that if Paul Watford or Tino Cuellar had been the nominee nobody would have tried to make an issue of it. The Republicans obstructing Watford or Cuellar would have allowed the Democrats to combine several themes — the diversity of their coalition, the intolerance of the Republicans, the importance of the Supreme Court — to create a narrative that might have been useful to the candidates in marginal Senate races. With Garland, however, the only story you can tell is a procedural one about obstruction — and nobody actually cares about that. Since there was never any chance that Obama could get a replacement for Scalia confirmed, the only thing that mattered was the politics. And the politics didn’t make sense at the time and they still don’t.

Between Kaine’s inept flailing on the Hyde Amendment and the absence of Garland from the DNC, I wouldn’t say this has been a great week for theories about the political benefits that allegedly accrue from picking bland white guys.

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