BOSTON (CBS) — “Throughout her life, Justice Ginsburg fought for women’s rights, reproductive rights, and a more just and fair society,” tweeted Sara Gideon, the Democrat challenging GOP Sen. Susan Collins in Maine. “Let us continue that fight in her memory.”
Gideon didn’t mention the bitter political battle that will now ensue as Republicans try to ram through Ginsburg’s successor before President Trump – should he lose in November – leaves office. She didn’t have to.
Collins is already struggling to dilute the political backlash from her 2018 vote to confirm controversial Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. And while Republican leaders believe they’ve been handed a golden opportunity to excite their base, raise money, divert attention from their role in the coronavirus debacle, and thus avert electoral disaster, Justice Ginsburg’s passing might well have the opposite effect.
This New York Times review of the political fallout from Kavanaugh’s 2018 odyssey, which climaxed just before a midterm election that cost the GOP control of the House, is telling:
“The conservative backlash to the fight seemed to help Republicans capture three Democratic Senate seats in conservative Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota — but Republicans might have grabbed the seats regardless of the uproar over Judge Kavanaugh. The backlash could have influenced the narrow Democratic Senate loss in Florida as well. And the sole Democratic senator who supported Judge Kavanaugh, Joe Manchin III in West Virginia, won in one of Mr. Trump’s strongest states. Yet Democrats in five other states carried by Mr. Trump two years ago won re-election after voting against Judge Kavanaugh: Mr. Casey in Pennsylvania, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, Debbie Stabenow in Michigan, Sherrod Brown in Ohio and Jon Tester in Montana.”
Notice how many crucial 2020 swing states are on that list.
It defies belief that the president wouldn’t nominate a woman, but at this point, it’s hard to see how that will appease anyone beyond the Trump base. There are conservative black and Latino female judges out there (although few appointed by Trump) and choosing one of them would be a clever political move.
But if there’s one thing we’ve learned about this president, it’s that he is rarely if ever politically clever. His unnecessary alienation of Sen. John McCain cost him his prized Obamacare repeal. The bungled trade war with China took a terrible toll on farmers and other elements of his base. His decision to make the 2018 midterms a referendum on a right-wing fever swamp fantasy about marauding Latino gangs heading for the US border backfired badly.
Without the obsessive, reckless tweeting and other ill-advised public comments, there might have been no impeachment trial. The failed smear campaign against Joe Biden flagged the former Vice President as the candidate Trump feared most; without it, he might be running against Sen. Bernie Sanders right now.
And the dumbest move of all, the decision to treat the pandemic strictly as a political issue rather than an apolitical matter of public health, has him at the brink of defeat.
It’s possible that some undecided voters, if there really are more than a handful at this point, might be persuaded to support an election-eve Republican power grab. But Trump has made a hash of nearly every major political decision of his tenure. The rush to replace Ginsburg – defying the dying woman’s last wish – could just as easily seal his and his party’s fate rather than avert it.