The more the Senate Republicans talk like there’s absolutely no way they will consider confirming a Supreme Court nomination from President Obama, the more they sound truly desperate. They may be able to control the actual nomination, but it could blow up in their faces if they don’t put an end to the debate now.
If the Democrats are smart about this, this is a far more potent electoral cudgel in Senate elections than most folks realize. Start with the given that this battle is life and death for partisan Democrats and partisan Republicans. But those people seldom determine statewide elections, certainly not in swing states. Lightly affiliated Democrats and Republicans and actual swing voters are highly attuned to charges about political dysfunction, refusal to do your job and so forth.
So let’s start with this. Republican senators won’t meet with the nominee. We get it. But I’m pretty sure Democratic senators will meet with him or her and make quite a show of it. I’m also fairly sure the White House will keep trying to set up meetings with Republican Senators and make a show of the on-going refusals. Senate challengers will press it in their campaigns too. And I have little doubt the White House will be sure to arrange meetings with the couple Republican senators who’ve so far bucked the unified front.
As I noted earlier, the necessity of the “three nos” is tied to a very evident slippery slope Republicans are desperately trying to avoid. If you meet with a nominee and then get asked how it went, what do you say? “It was a good meeting, a very qualified individual. But we definitely won’t hold a confirmation hearing?” That doesn’t make sense. The whole thing doesn’t make a lot of sense. But that’s okay if you put the whole story to bed in February or March. There’s a big difference between just announcing it and getting past it and having a death of a thousand messaging cuts over the course of an election year. As the people managing the opposition on the Republican side have made clear, they need to do everything they can to avoid any discussion which focuses on the qualifications of the nominee – an amazingly cynical statement but accurate in terms of strategy.
As I said, partisans on both sides are immovable on this. And loosely affiliated or swing voters, by definition, aren’t terribly knowledgeable or concerned about the differences over judicial philosophy which undergird this fight. But these voters are extremely focused on gridlock, doing your job or not doing your job, people who refuse to do their job or just do what makes sense for seemingly arbitrary reasons. What is more, there’s no ideological commitment required in this case. The issue is readily understandable. This is your job. Do your job. Especially if you’re asking to be hired again!
I fully expect you’ll see Democrats standing up DoYourJob.com type websites across the swath of states from the Atlantic to the Mississippi Valley and using various methods to continue pressing those half a dozen senators on whether they’ll meet with the nominee, whether they’ll vote and why if they will do those things they won’t or can’t convince their colleagues to do the same. I strongly suspect that those endangered senators can’t hold up under six months of that onslaught, not without sustaining a measure of reputational damage which may not be vast but is more than enough to lose them their seats.
The only real challenge I see here for the White House is that the person President Obama likely wants is one of those brainiac, hyper-credentialed judicial minds whose made his or her life in the law schools and the federal bench. Those tend not to be the sort of people who are temperamentally cut out for this kind of political drama. To the extent these folks are political – and they definitely are, just in a different way – they may not see it as in their longterm interests to become such a politically charged figure. Still, I’m sure Obama can find someone.
The smarter Democrats must see this. And I suspect the Republicans do too. That’s why they are doing everything they possibly can to shut this process down before it starts. That’s the key. It is entirely within their power not to hold a vote. The public spectacle of nine months of stonewalling, the political fallout and the narrative it creates is not. That’s what’s behind the almost maniacal blood oath drama of the “three nos”. This is not close to over unless the Democrats agree to make it over. And I doubt they will.
The only question remaining is how would the GOP climb off this ledge without it looking like they’re caving in to President Obama and the Democrats. The short answer is that they can’t without looking even more craven than they already do.