Senate Republicans backed themselves into a corner when they rushed out with a statement on Saturday vowing not to hold a vote on any Supreme Court nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. It was a strategy first advocated by Sen. Ted Cruz, who knows a thing or two about backing the Senate into a corner.
By refusing to consider any nominee put forth by President Barack Obama, Republicans arranged the chess board such that there is one, and only one, scenario in which the outcome works in their favor. The hope is that the conservative base -- currently in open rebellion against the party establishment for failing to deliver on promises to block the Obama administration -- will decide that Republican leaders in Congress have a backbone after all. That, and the opportunity to nominate a conservative jurist (and prevent a liberal one), will boost Republican turnout in November.
That is the only scenario in which Republicans come out on top.
The Democrats, however, have many scenarios that could work in their favor.
Obama could nominate someone enormously appealing to Democrats (Justice Elizabeth Warren, anyone?). If the Republicans don't hold a vote, that nominee becomes a carrot dangling out there throughout the election season. The result: wild horses couldn't keep Democrats from voting in November.
Obama could nominate someone who represents a large voting bloc (Hispanic or Asian, say). If Republicans don't hold a vote, that nominee becomes the carrot that boosts turnout of that bloc in November. In addition, Republicans risk looking disrespectful to that nominee, potentially offending that same voting bloc. In the case of a Hispanic nominee, the move would, at the very least tamp, down on any appeal that a Spanish-speaking Republican candidate (former Gov. Jeb Bush, or Sens. Cruz or Marco Rubio) might have among Hispanic voters.
If any of the above scenarios gets the Republican leadership to cave and hold a vote, the party will be confirming the sense of betrayal that its rank-and-file are already feeling. Those voters will then nominate either Donald Trump or Cruz, and Republicans lose in November. Or, if an establishment candidate is nominated, those voters become even more demoralized and stay home rather than vote in November.
- Obama could nominate someone so appealingly moderate that conservatives would rather hedge their bets and confirm that person than take the chance of President Hillary Clinton nominating Obama.
Given the available scenarios, this game of brinkmanship is much more risky for Republicans than it is for Democrats.
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