I’ve spent the last 24 hours trying to get a handle on the bizarre politics of the SCOTUS appointment. On the one hand, it’s nothing more than our current status quo. The weirdness of our current status quo is the asymmetry between Republicans and other Americans. Republicans have been furiously angry for years – they can’t get any angrier But other Americans are oddly disengaged. If that status quo breaks, if Democrats and independents get engaged, it could turn against Republicans very quickly and decisively.
The death of Antonin Scalia certainly came as a surprise – I believe he was thought to be in as good a health as a 79 year old man could be. I’m sending condolences and best wishes to his family and loved ones.
Scalia’s body hadn’t even hit the floor before Republicans were playing politics. Lindsey Graham suggested President Obama should name a moderate Orrin Hatch type, proving once again that the Senate’s biggest closet case is divorced from reality. Mitch McConnell was peddling a theory that we should wait a year so the next president can appoint someone. The Republican presidential candidates got in on the act during their Saturday night debate cum mud-wrestling event. The odious Ted Cruz has promised to filibuster any Obama nominee.
The President offered a short, gracious statement and promised to fulfill his Constitutional duty and nominate a candidate to the Supreme Court.
A sudden opening on the Supreme Court – especially one created by the death of the Court’s rock-ribbed conservative loudmouth – was going to be political. It was going to be big news. And it has been with the Sunday morning talk shows in full newsgasm over it.
From what I see, the Republicans are about to get their heads handed to them by Barack Obama, yet again. As a general rule, Republicans have not paid much price for their obstructionism. But, they have yet to win a high profile political battle with Barack Obama. He’ll nominate someone they can’t realistically reject. Congressional Republicans will twist themselves into pretzels to come up with some, any, plausible reason to reject the nominee; they’ll fail. Public opinion will turn on them and they’ll begrudgingly vote the person in. In the meantime, the Republican base will lose its collective mind, and start spewing all sorts of unacceptable public statements, teabagger congresscritters and candidates will say stupid, offensive things, probably lose a few winnable races, and generally make the entire party look like a collection of Neanderthals. The Democratic base will get fired up and turnout to vote. And, young people will cement their loyalty to the Democratic party and probably help the Dems either flip the Senate and/or capture the White House.
Republicans should argue that a President Clinton or Sanders will nominate a flamingly liberal jurist and might have a Democratic Senate to approve them. A moderate justice is better than a liberal one from that perspective. Republicans need to minimize the political explosion and treat the outcome as inevitable. Of course, Republicans may not be able to sell that to their voters – after all, many Republican voters are still convinced that Barack Obama stole both the 2008 and 2012 elections and that Republican politicians have been too weak to stand up to him. The pragmatic course of action may not be available to Republicans.
Barack Obama has proven himself a surprisingly cagey politician. He is a gifted campaigner and Republicans run the risk that he will start barnstorming the country if they fight too hard on this issue. A campaigning Barack Obama is a huge asset for Democrats. The Republican base can’t get any angrier. But the Democratic base can be rallied. Disengaged Democratic voters could turn out. Suddenly Bernie’s model of change could become real and Republicans would find themselves fighting an engaged, liberal president and his voters. That’s the outcome Republicans want to avoid, but they probably cannot sell it to their furious base.