Mitch McConnell’s Supreme Court blockade was not only a yooooge substantive win, it was a political coup as well:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took a risk when he declared last February that the Senate would not consider any appointment by President Barack Obama to replace the recently deceased Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. McConnell risked making himself and his party look intransigent and dangerously irresponsible, blinded by hatred of Obama to the point of disabling a branch of government. He risked making voters angry at his party during an election year.
The risk paid off. Near as I can tell, Republicans paid no electoral penalty for this maneuver. Sure, they took some heat from the political media for it, but, like most other issues, it was quickly absorbed into the partisan divide. Conservative media sources claimed it would be inappropriate for a president to name a justice during his final year in office, other outlets noted there was precedent for it, and the Senate majority held fast to its position.
But there was a larger game being played here. McConnell’s move made the Supreme Court seat an issue for the presidential election. It motivated conservatives to stay on board with the Republican presidential nominee no matter who it was.
The Supreme Court vacancy changed all that. It informed key constituencies, particularly evangelical Christians, that there was far more on the ballot than Trump. The balance of the Court, particularly on such issues as abortion, was in play. Abandon the nominee, and Hillary Clinton gets to pick the next one, two, or three justices. Stand by the nominee, no matter how repellent, and you get to.
Of course, one question I can’t answer is why marginal liberal voters are less able to keep their eyes on the prize. People on the left seem much more likely to go through contortions to explain away the significance of the Supreme Court or argue that it’s BLACKMAIL to bring it up or whatever. I don’t get it.
I will say that there was a potential missed opportunity here. Barack Obama made at least one blunder that materially affected the election, nominating James Comey to head the FBI. His nomination of Merrick Garland probably didn’t. But if only as part of a longer-term project to focus liberal attention on the Court, it would have been nice to pick a nominee that Democratic constituencies would have a stake in. Instead he picked a nominee almost guaranteed to generate a minimum of attention. Given that his nominee was obviously never going to be given a hearing, politics were the only relevant consideration, and the politics of Garland never made any sense. But at least the Democrats will get credit for not playing “identity politics,” right?
Anyway, I still find the fact that people are seriously talking about Dems working with Trump after 8 years of watching McConnell prove that congressional obstructionism is a bill the president gets stuck with amazing.