Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The GOP, SCOTUS, and the Age of Anti-Strategy

What exactly is the end game here?

Judge Garland is preferable to the GOP to whomever would be nominated at the beginning of a Clinton presidency (or a Sanders presidency), or, for that matter, a Trump presidency (because who the hell knows what that would look like).

A Trump nomination - which isn't a lock yet, but it's pretty damn close - suddenly puts control of the Senate in play, because (a) Republicans opposed to Trump will mostly stay home rather than turn out to vote down ballot, and (b) who knows whether Trump voters will bother to vote down ballot.

A Democratic Senate likewise means a worse outcome for the GOP, no matter who becomes President.

There is no political capital to be gained, because there is no such thing as political capital for the Republican establishment right now. They're in a situation where any capital they build up with their voter base accrues, almost certainly, to Trump, the person who is destroying their party - and, if they lose the Senate, solely to him.

I don't buy the notion that the plan is to block the SCOTUS nomination until the Republican national convention and then confirm if Trump wins the presidential nomination, or block it until the general election (if Trump doesn't get the presidential nomination) and then confirm if a Democrat wins.

(1) If Trump becomes the nominee, I don't see the Senate having the guts to drop their opposition after the convention. And if he wins the general, there's no way they'll confirm Obama's nominee after the election.

(2) If the Democrats take the White House and the Senate, I actually think there's a good chance that either Senate Democrats will filibuster, or a lame-duck President Obama will withdraw the nominee and let his successor make it with a friendlier Senate. Maybe I'm way off base there, but that seems pretty reasonable and pretty likely to me.

So the relevant scenario is (3) a Democrat as president-elect and a continued GOP Senate.

I think that's the most likely scenario (though I'm prepared to be surprised by the current American electorate). So that could be the plan - score a few points for themselves now, on the assumption that a Trump nomination can still be stopped and thus that their grandstanding won't ultimately help him, and then get away with confirming in December if they have to, based on the argument that they're saving the country from a worse possibility.

The first flaw there is the idea that they would get away with it - i.e. that Republican voters would accept handing a victory to a lame-duck Obama in order to avoid a future threat, and thus the GOP Senators wouldn't end up worse off than they would have been if they had confirmed before the lame-duck period. But maybe it's not unreasonable to think they'd get away with it.

My real reason for thinking this isn't the strategy is that I believe (a) Senate Republicans time-discount hyperbolically, not exponentially, and (b) the leadership (at least) knows that this is what they do, and doesn't know how to stop it.

So they know that the Senate Republicans would never be able to follow through on a plan to block now and then yield in November, because as the time to yield approached, the preferences of most GOP Senators would invert, and they'd pick avoiding the near-term pain of confirming for a lame-duck Obama over avoiding the greater but more distant pain of having the next President pick the nominee - their current public faux preference for refusing to consider Obama's pick would become their actual preference.

Maybe I'm giving the leadership too much credit here. Maybe this is the strategy and they really don't know that it's not one they'll be able to stick to. But I think they have at least that much awareness of what their members are like and of what situation they're in.

It really looks like there is no strategy here. From every angle, this works against their own interests. There's nothing here but a 7-years-deep unwillingness to work with Obama.

The fact that that's enough to overcome any other consideration is beyond pathetic. At least when they had something to gain from their childishness, it was at least possible to believe that they were motivated by the gain. But no; they really are just a bunch of emotionally stunted, overgrown children.

Update 23 March: The most plausible argument for there being a strategy here just went out the window.

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