On Saturday, writing for Politico, Tim Alberta broke down why President Donald Trump is uniquely vulnerable to a nasty Supreme Court fight in a way that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is not.
“It would seem a no-brainer to any conservative ideologue: With Trump trailing in the polls, and fewer than seven weeks until Election Day, Republicans should act immediately to lock down one branch of the federal government,” wrote Alberta. “But Trump is not a conservative ideologue. He’s an opportunist. The president cares about court appointments primarily because of the political capital they accrue with his base. A relative newcomer to the judicial wars, Trump once recalled to me his astonishment upon realizing how some voters—particularly religious conservatives—prioritized judges above all else when casting their ballots.”
And while Trump has since learned the power of judicial confirmations in cementing Republican power and energizing Republican enthusiasm, wrote Alberta, his calculus is still different from McConnell’s.
“Accusations of hypocrisy will not deter McConnell. Nor will it daunt most Senate Republicans. Whatever pain might be inflicted on the party now cannot compare to the pleasure of effecting a generational shift in the makeup of the Supreme Court,” wrote Alberta. “For Trump, on the other hand, this isn’t about any long-term ideological struggle. It’s about short-term survival.”
Simply put, wrote Alberta, Trump has more to gain from not trying to ram through a justice right now — but dangling a name to turn out voters for him. “The president is transactional to his core,” wrote Alberta. And it is possible “that he comes to see [the Supreme Court vacancy] as part of a new transaction; that with just 46 days remaining until the election, he needs every carrot he can possibly dangle in front of voters.”
“Naturally, it’s not as though Trump can come out and say as much,” wrote Alberta. “But there are ways for the famously disorganized administration to intentionally drag its feet, to slow the process enough so that it’s close enough for voters to smell a new Supreme Court justice but not close enough for the Senate to confirm one. This could even be done with the blessing of McConnell.”
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