The political cost of opposing Gorsuch

  • 6 February 2017
  • NormanL
The political cost of opposing Gorsuch

Senate Democrats have made it clear they intend to filibuster the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. As Jim Geraghty notes, that could put some Democrats up for re-election in 2018 in considerable political trouble:

...grassroots conservatives are genuinely thrilled with the Gorsuch pick. Voices on the right who aren’t such big fans about Trump himself are elated over the excellence of his first judicial nomination. It appears that Gorsuch matters to grassroots conservatives a lot more than Garland ever mattered to grassroots progressives.

Assume that some Democrats who insisted the Senate had to vote on Garland turn around and choose to filibuster Gorsuch. Pick any handful out of Donnelly, Nelson, Stabenow, McCaskill, Tester, Heitkamp, Brown, Casey, Kaine, Manchin and Baldwin.

Fast forward to autumn 2018. Do you doubt groups like Judicial Crisis Network, Freedom Partners, Americans for Prosperity, and Heritage Action will be running ads hitting those Democratic senators for their partisan flip-flop? “Senator X said every judicial nominee deserved a vote . . . and then turned around and tried to block Justice Gorsuch.” It will be a midterm electorate, meaning older, whiter, more conservative, in a bunch of older, whiter, and more conservative states . . . 

Sure, Chuck Schumer concludes there’s no political price for blocking a Supreme Court justice. But are all of those red-state Democrats willing to bet their careers on it?

As matters stand right now, they most certainly will, betting that being part of, and even attempting to lead, the "resistance" to Trump will make them heroes in the eyes of their progressive voters and, far more importantly, progressive campaign donors.

Congressional elections rarely turn on a single Supreme Court nomination, particularly one that comes two years before a mid term election. But the Garland nomination will set the tone for Senate Demcorats over the next two years. Their choice, so far, has been to hector and rant. But the cold reality of Washington, DC right now is Democrats are a minority party that has few, if any, means of stalling (nevermind stopping) Trump nominees. They can make speeches, appear in videos, and so on. But in the end, they don't have the votes.

Opposing Gorsuch, then, is more theater than substance. It might become an issue -- one of many -- in the 2018 mid term elections. 

But if Trump should get a second, or even third, Supreme Court vacancy to fill between now and 2018? Then Democrats will have to weigh the political costs of opposition very, very carefully.