McConnell’s Risky Gamble

Barack Obama is a very lucky politician. His election as president came about because of a perfect political storm: a primary opponent who did not realize she was losing until it was too late; a general election adversary who frivolously threw away his most potent argument — Obama’s lack of experience — by selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate; and finally, a predecessor who mismanaged the subprime mortgage crisis for months, leading to the eventual financial meltdown taking place a month before voters headed for the polls.

Obama has also been extremely lucky when it comes to his Republican opponents in Congress, who have repeatedly tipped their hand, giving the president plenty of time to plan to carry out their defeat. A perfect example of this is when Mitch McConnell infamously declared that his top political objective was “to deny president Obama a second term” —  a wholly unnecessary statement, since anyone acquainted with our political system knows that the party out of the White House will work towards reclaiming it in the next election. Nevertheless, McConnell felt compelled to announce his plans in that manner, giving the president all the ammunition he needed to blame any lack of progress on the Republicans and, thus, ensuring himself a second term.


Apparently, Sen. McConnell is not a man that learns from his mistakes. Once again he has given Obama ammunition to portray Republicans as obstructionists. The president wasted no time pouncing on McConnell’s refusal to confirm any nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia.  After a gracious tribute to the life and career of the fallen justice, Obama put Republicans on notice that he intended to fulfill his constitutional duties by nominating a successor and urged the Senate to fulfill its constitutional obligation to provide “advice and consent”.

Ted Cruz demanding that the next president fill the Supreme Court vacancy makes perfect political sense, since he is desperately trying to catch up with Donald Trump in South Carolina. But McConnell did not have to play that game. It would have been more politically astute for the Majority Leader to be coy and limit his remarks to saying that the Senate would give a fair hearing to whomever the president nominates.  He could have allowed Obama to make his move, raised objections based simply on the background of his nominee, and employed parliamentary procedures to delay confirmation. There certainly will not be a shortage of Republican senators willing to filibuster.

Instead, Republicans have decided to put forth the preposterous argument that no Supreme Court vacancy should be filled during the last year of a second presidential term. What next? The president shouldn’t pass a budget, veto bills or be Commander in Chief? Since Republicans pride themselves on being strict constructionists and Constitutional conservatives: where in the Constitution does it state that the second presidential term is three instead of four years?

Maybe McConnell was not goaded by Cruz.  Maybe this is the latest attempt by the GOP establishment to stop Trump: by seizing this opportunity to make appointments to the Supreme Court a central issue in the presidential election – another astonishingly bad idea. Up until the sudden death of Scalia, social issues have not played a central role in the GOP primaries. Thanks to Trump’s candidacy, the debates have focused on security, trade, and immigration — issues that a large swath of the voting public cares about.  By focusing on the Supreme Court, social issues will be back front and center, since the judicial decisions conservatives find most objectionable usually involve abortion and same sex marriage.

Does anyone really believe there is a groundswell in the country for overturning Griswold and reinstating laws that banned contraception? Do Republicans believe that running on the denial of a constitutionally-guaranteed right to privacy, or rolling back same-sex marriage at a time when polls show that a majority of Americans support it, is a winning platform? Despite being among the most controversial decisions in the history of the Supreme Court, opposition to overturning Roe v. Wade has been consistent for decades .

Keeping Scalia’s seat open will serve as a rallying cry for liberals and moderates to coalesce behind the Democrat nominee. It will galvanize the Obama coalition at a time when it was fraying. The War on Women will gain currency again, especially if the GOP is foolish enough to nominate a candidate like Marco Rubio, whose stance that life begins at conception would surely lead to a ban on common contraceptives like birth control pills. McConnell is betting on the Republican Party winning the White House, but his gamble could just as easily result in the Democrats winning the presidency and taking back control of the Senate.