By Mitchell Blatt*
When the Republicans unconditionally blocked President Barack Obama’s appointment of any Supreme Court justice, leaving the court lacking one justice and resulting in split cases this year, they argued that the next president should be charged with appointing the next justice. “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said.
That was before Donald Trump had been nominated and when the Republicans thought they had a good chance of winning the 2016 election. Will Republicans give in to the voice of the American people now that Hillary Clinton is looking like she will almost certainly win the election?
The fat lady isn’t singing yet, but Senator John McCain lent his voice. “I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up,” the Arizona Republican said.
Pragmatic liberals like Mother Jones‘s Kevin Drum should dampen their optimism about how easily President Clinton will be able to work with a Republican congress.
Drum wrote why he thinks Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan will compromise with Clinton in order to burnish his presidential cred for the 2020 election:
But there’s another possibility. Ryan is not a racial fearmonger. He’s always been open to immigration reform. … And despite being conservative himself, he may well realize that the GOP simply can’t stay in thrall to the tea party caucus forever if it wants to survive. …
It’s also possible that he wants to run for president in 2020, and if that’s the case he’ll do better if he has some real accomplishments to show over the next four years. Running on a platform of scorched-earth obstruction might get the tea partiers excited, but that’s not enough to win the presidency.
So maybe Ryan decides that now is the time to try to reform the Republican Party. Once he wins the speakership again, he makes clear to the tea partiers that they’re finished as power brokers: he’s going to pass bills even if it means depending on Democratic support to do it. He reaches out to women and minorities. He passes immigration reform. He makes sure that budgets get passed and we don’t default on the national debt. He works behind the scenes with Hillary Clinton in standard horsetrading mode: she gets some things she wants, but only in return for some things conservatives want.
This could go a long way toward making him the next president of the United States.
Here’s why Drum is probably wrong: Ted Cruz.
Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Tom Cotton, Jeff Sessions, and even moderate Republican John McCain. The Republican Senate is going to continue to obstruct much legislation. And Paul Ryan is going to lose his primary bid.
It may be that running on a platform of scorched earth isn’t enough to win the presidency, but it sure is enough to win the Republican nomination.
Here’s what’s going to happen in 2020: Paul Ryan argues that he’s the adult who can get things done in government. Senator X, elected in 2018, or Donald Trump Jr or someone, says, “You’re part of the Establishment Lizard People! You support Hillary!”
Yes, the Republican candidate for president is going to get crushed in 2016, an election that the Republicans were well positioned to win, but everyone already knew they were going to lose. Donald Trump’s base were the only ones who didn’t know they were going to lose. Donald Trump’s base (many of them) will vote in 2016. Even if a lot of the never-voted before “low information” voters Trump brought out stay home in 2016, Ted Cruz’s base will vote. Cruz finished second in the primary after burnishing his reputation as a Senator entirely on the basis of obstructionism. As I wrote before, defeating Trump (alone) won’t save the GOP.
Paul Ryan may very well try to compromise in the House of Representatives, but there is much incentive for individual Republican senators to obstruct in Senate (whether or not there isn’t incentive for the GOP as a party to obstruct, which there might be if they continue to hate Hillary). An individual senator can become famous, build mass support among the Tea Party, and raise donations and institutional support from dogmatic activist groups like Heritage Action by blocking anything that includes any Democratic Party goals.
Ted Cruz and Rand Paul made the self-agrandizing filibuster a useful ploy for attention even when it failed politically. Now there are some young hardline senators who may want to launch a presidential campaign, like Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton. There will also be new senators elected in 2016 and 2018*–remember, Cruz, Paul, and Marco Rubio launched their presidential campaigns after less than one term in Senate.
Even John McCain, who has no intentions of seeking higher office and isn’t a hardliner himself, is warning about obstructing Clinton for 4-8 years even on something as ordinary as justices necessary for the function of the judicial system.
Partially McCain’s comments are a strategic message to anti-Trump Republicans. McCain repudiated Trump and withdrew his endorsement after the video of Trump talking about committing sexual assault was exposed. By insisting to Republicans that they will block any Clinton nominee, he is trying to undercut one of the few effective arguments Trump is making to conservative Republicans: that the next president will nominate a number of Supreme Court justices.
No, nevermind what the Republican senators said, McCain is saying, the next president won’t nominate SCOTUS justices if she’s a Democrat. He’s trying to take the issue off the table.
On the other hand, if McCain, a moderate, feels the issue is of such import to Republicans and to his own Arizona electorate, then it’s probably a big issue to most Republican voters and most Republican senators. When he is comfortably reelected, he and the other Republican senators are going to feel the pressure to obstruct Clinton.
About the author:
*Mitchell Blatt moved to China in 2012, and since then he has traveled and written about politics and culture throughout Asia. A writer and journalist, based in China, he is the lead author of Panda Guides Hong Kong guidebook and a contributor to outlets including The Federalist, China.org.cn, The Daily Caller, and Vagabond Journey. Fluent in Chinese, he has lived and traveled in Asia for three years, blogging about his travels at ChinaTravelWriter.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @MitchBlatt.