While Republicans might be struggling on what to do about Obamacare there is no such disunity over Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick. Indeed, virtually every elected Republican official and outside groups have praised Trump’s choice for the Supreme Court; Neil Gorsuch. His resume is stellar, he is a Constitutionalist in the truest form, and he is not a firebreather (as some others were on Trump’s shortlist).
Democrats, by contrast, initially showed a veneer of unity in opposition to Gorsuch. Chuck Schumer said he would oppose any nominee “outside the mainstream” and Nancy Pelosi echoed a similar sentiment. That is until he undercut himself after Trump urged Republicans to institute the nuclear option that eliminates the need for closure (60 votes) to get a nominee confirmed. That has forced Schumer to argue he wants at least 60 votes to get Gorsuch confirmed but at least he is now talking about a vote.
Democrats are faced with an excruciating choice. Do they blatantly oppose Trump’s nominee for two years (probably four) and hope he loses or do Democrats try to move the needle of public opinion via opposition in favor of an alternative. The party harbors significant resentment over Republicans refusal to consider Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Court last year.
But, Republicans appear smarter than Democrats already. Last year, Republicans couched their refusal to consider Garland based on the premise Obama was a lame duck President. Flimsy as that may be (and I opposed his nomination), it at least gave voters an idea of why Republicans were behaving the way they did. Further, Republicans insisted they would have a vote on Obama’s successor’s nominee. They certainly will.
Democrats have presented no such message. Instead, their opposition appears to be blatant opposition. Democrats have already dropped the “out of the mainstream” talk largely because they know Gorsuch will be hard to demonize. Yes, he is a gun rights supporter, Constitutionalist and likely opposes abortion, but none of his rulings have put him out of the mainstream.
With Trump threatening the nuclear option the party is put even more on the defensive. Now, Democrats are admitting they will have a vote. That is not good news for the party.
Democrats are defending a whopping 25 Senate seats next year and 40 percent (10) of them are in states Trump carried. Notably, more voters in Montana, West Virginia, Missouri, North Dakota and Indiana identify as pro-life and pro-gun than the opposite. These states also voted by double-digits for Trump (West Virginia by a whopping 42 points). This means automatically Republicans could very likely peel off five Democratic votes. This is not even counting the five other Democrats up (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin) up for reelection in states Trump carried (by single digits).
Conservative groups have taken notice. While much of organized labor is tied up in vigorously opposing Betsy Devos’s nomination as Secretary of Education, conservative groups from the NRA to Susan B Anthony to Club for Growth are planning on spending millions to mobilize voters to urge support for Gorsuch.
Red state Democrats will be caught in this maelstrom and lack a compelling, partywide message to oppose Trump’s nominee. Of course, much depends on Gorsuch’s Senate testimony. But, right now, Republicans and conservative groups are far more united and sure in their support of Gorsuch than Democrats are in their opposition.
Democrats would be smart to acknowledge that Gorsuch’s nomination would not tilt the balance of the court. It would still be split 4-4 with Kennedy as the swing vote. And while Kennedy may not like government overreach he has also tended to be deferential to executive agencies and is pro-life only to a point. Democrats sacrificing what is left of the conservative wing of their party over this fight does not seem warranted.
Worse, Democrats looking for a reason to justify blanket opposition to Gorsuch, even if electorally, cannot turn to 2010 and 2014 as examples. Those elections, Republicans had banner years. Democrats say it is because GOP opposition stifled Obama’s successes and they punished the party in power (Democrats). Except Democrats passed Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, Cash for Clunkers, and the Stimulus (just for starters). Putting the lie to this idea is that many Democrats did not even try to run on this record but run away from it. Ditto for 2014.
Ultimately, this leaves Democrats in a huge bind. Their base wants them to fight Trump and anything he does but the broader electorate does not. Trump’s pick is also the perfect royal flush in politics. A choice that unites the right and leaves the left scrambling. Until Democrats come up with a compelling message to explain their opposition to Gorsuch they face a no-win situation. This could have serious repercussions come 2018.