On the surface it may appear that President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are engaged in a titanic struggle over the future of the Supreme Court. But, as this insightful article from Brookings explains, the issue is much less cosmic when you see it from an insider’s perspective.V http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/fixgov/posts/2016/03/03-mcconnell-scalia-congress-options-hudak-reynolds
The article makes clear that McConnell is more an entrepreneur than an ideologue. His primary goal on this issue is not to impact the Court, but rather to elect as many Republican Senate candidates as possible in the November elections. McConnell is less interested in the verdict of history on the Roberts Court than the verdict of his Republican colleagues on his stewardship of the present Republican Senate majority. That’s the legacy on which he will be judged.
You might argue that the larger goal of a conservative Supreme Court and the narrow goal of electing more Republican senators in November are not contradictory, but in this case I think they are. It’s clear that Donald Trump will either be the Republican candidate or run as a third party candidate.
Under either scenario, Hillary Clinton will easily win. If only white males were allowed to vote, Trump might well win. But white women and minorities also can vote, groups Trump has gone out of his way to alienate. If my analysis is correct ( I think it is one that most professional politicians share) then it would make good sense for the Republicans to quickly approve moderate Merrick Garland because Hillary will most likely nominate a more liberal white woman or minority if she is elected.
But, as the article points out, while this might make sense from an ideological perspective, it would not advance McConnell’s strategy of trying to bolster the chances of the most “vulnerable” Republican Senatorial candidates who would be forced to either vote for or against Garland. Voting either way would cause problems. Voting against a well-qualified moderate would alienate moderate Republicans and independent voters; to vote for him would anger conservative Republicans. That’s why McConnell thinks it would be better if the party as a whole refused to hold hearings on the nomination so that the vulnerable candidates could avoid the issue. They can now say they are only loyally following the leadership’s position.
I am not claiming that there is anything unusual or unethical in McConnell’s actions. I think we could also imagine a scenario in which President Obama’s act of nominating Garland was also motivated by short term political goals rather than long range ideological ones. Why wouldn’t he just sit still and let Hillary nominate a more liberal nominee when she is elected?
I just want to point out that it is bizarre that the members of the most important court in the world are chosen by such small bore acts of political gamesmanship.
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