In some ways, making politically-based decisions can be compared to an ongoing high-stakes chess game.
In February 2016, former Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia, died. He had been described as the “intellectual anchor of the Court’s Conservative Wing”.
Not surprisingly, former President Barack Obama nominated a Liberal-leaning candidate, Merrick Garland, a U.S Circuit Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals, to replace Scalia.
It was then only logical for Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate Majority leader, to search for a way to block Obama’s appointment. He came up with the unprecedented argument that a Supreme Court appointment should not be made by a sitting president in an election year.
Although many would consider this argument weak, the Republicans controlled the Senate and it really didn’t matter who Obama nominated. He or she didn’t stand a chance of confirmation.
McConnell had everything to gain and NOTHING TO LOSE.
If Hillary Clinton won the presidential election, the next Supreme Court Justice would have eventually and inevitably been someone with a Liberal perspective. Even if the Senate maintained a Republican majority ( which it actually did) it would be inconceivable for them to block every candidate that Clinton might have nominated over the following four years.
So, again, McConnell would have lost nothing by manipulating the system in order to leave Scalia’s seat empty.
However, what if Trump won (which, sadly, he did)?
We all know how that played out!
Now, with the death of RBG, the tables have turned.
If the open slot is not filled until after January 2021, and Trump wins, a delay in pushing though a Conservative candidate becomes somewhat irrelevant. Even if the Republicans become the minority party in the Senate, sooner or later, the Senate would have to accept a Trump nominee.
Under this scenario, McConnell wins, whether a nominee is accepted now or later. In the scheme of things, what’s a few months?
HOWEVER, WHAT IF JOE BIDEN WINS?
If that scenario unfolds, and McConnell did not succeed in quickly confirming a Trump candidate, McConnell will have lost everything– especially if there is also a power shift in the Senate.
I believe most people who think about the ins and outs of politics realize that McConnell’s current reasoning is flawed. In trying to reconcile dragging his feet in 2016 versus his 2020 sprint, he points to the fact that the U.S., at present, has both a Republican president and a Republican majority in the Senate, which was not the case in 2016.
The unvarnished truth is, however, that both Trump and McConnell are deathly afraid of the results of the upcoming election. Personally, I see Trump’s haste to anoint a Conservative replacement for RBG as a de facto concession of defeat in six weeks’ time.
If Trump were truly confident of victory, he would not be in such an all-fired rush to stack the Conservative-dominated Court even more than it already is. RBG deserves a proper mourning period and a non-partisan celebration of her life.
So what can be done? Basically the answer is for the Senate Democrats to find at least four Republican senators who are either not up for re-election, or who are running in “safe” seats. Even if not governed by the principle of simply doing the right thing, they must at least understand the advantages of living to fight another day after Trump goes down in flames.