All You Need To Know #16
This will be an interesting week, because the dynamics of the race are about to change a lot due to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing yesterday evening. So let’s take stock of where we are before all the numbers change over the next few weeks.
FiveThirtyEight’s forecast puts Trump’s chance of winning at 23%, the lowest it’s been since the 28th of June. RealClearPolitics’s battleground polling has him up by 3.9%, which means he’s on an month-long downswing on that poll as well. As always, it’s the details that tell a more complete story of how strongly Biden is running right now.
Biden is up 6.7% in Wisconsin, 5% in Arizona, and 4.8% in Wisconsin. Those three states are enough for Biden to win, and that’s without even counting North Carolina, Florida, and Minnesota. (Which are also all showing Biden leads.) So that’s good news.
(Side story: Biden did a town hall this week and impressed everyone. So much so that people on the right are convinced he memorised the questions beforehand and memorised his answers. This is hilarious because you cannot simultaneously push a theory that he’s senile but also illegally memorising entire townhalls for an unfair advantage.)
But of course the big news of the week is that Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and Trump wants to put another conservative justice on the court to replace her. I’ve been pleased to see the conventional wisdom in the mainstream media pretty similar to my point of view, which goes like this:
Legally, Trump is allowed to replace RBG. But from a precedent standpoint, Mitch McConnell infamously stole a seat from Democrats when Obama was in this situation. Despite the fact that the election was nine months away, Mitch McConnell simply refused to allow a vote in 2016 because he wanted to give the seat to Trump.
Now it’s four years later, the election is in about 40 days, and – surprise, surprise – the Republicans don’t think the same standard applies anymore. When they need to choose between laws and power, the GOP chooses power, surprising no one. But there’s a wrinkle, and that’s the issue of vulnerable Republican senators.
Part of Mitch McConnell’s brilliance is he rarely makes his senators take tough votes. Why put them on the record voting for something unpopular if you don’t have to? It allows your senators to be chameleons and stand for whatever is going to get them elected, with no datapoints to contradict them. It’s a really smart move.
So now let’s say you’re Susan Collins, a Republican senator from Maine. You’re fighting for your political life in this election because the polls show you in a dead heat. You’re not going to win by getting closer to Trump, because the state doesn’t like him much. But you’re not going to win by going far left, either. You’re stuck right in the middle. You need to appeal to independents and centrists, because they will determine your fate. That means you really don’t want to take risky positions, because you’ll risk alienating just enough centrists to lose.
So what do you do when Trump says he wants the GOP to break its promise and railroad a conservative judge into the court at the last minute? Politically, that’s a bad move. The people of Maine will see right through that, and you’ll probably lose the election. In a perfect world, RBG wouldn’t have forced this decision on you, so instead you issue a press release that contains this quote that goes against Trump:
“Given the proximity of the presidential election, however, I do not believe that the Senate should vote on the nominee prior to the election. In fairness to the American people, who will either be re-electing the President or selecting a new one, the decision on a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court should be made by the President who is elected on November 3rd.”
And that’s the move you make as vulnerable Republican senator. When choosing between Trump or getting re-elected, you need to get re-elected, which in this case means playing fair. Speaking of which, her friend and senator of Alaska, Lisa Murkowski, said “fair is fair” to explain why she would also allow the people to decide. Lisa Murkowski isn’t up for re-election this year, so it’s even more important and impressive that she put the line in the sand and bucked the president’s power-grab.
So where does that leave us, voting-wise? Are two votes enough to stop this? Sadly, no. It’s very likely that they steal a second seat, which is upsetting. But even with this setback, I see the GOP losing the PR battle no matter how this plays out. This is a vote Republicans absolutely do not want to have to take right before an election, because they know the optics are bad. Even if they do get a seat out of it.
Let’s think about the details. If they steal they seat, they’ll need enough votes. That means the four most vulnerable Republicans (Collins in Maine, Ernst in Iowa, Tillis in North Carolina, and Gardner in Colorado) would end up on the record, on a controversial topic, which would be more than enough to rally attention to their opponents, and lose them the election. Which would lose the Senate. Talk about winning the battle and losing the war.
We’re already seeing signs of this. Yesterday Democrats raised more money in an hour than they ever have … and then they broke the record again the next hour. The left is fired up and ready to go, which is why Biden is flush with cash and Trump has gone dark in many states. Trump may get some enthusiasm from this drama, but it’s highly likely the Democrats get more. Every day this is in the news breaks the GOP further and further, especially because of all the juicy soundbites we have to press the case.
For example, Lindsay Graham, the head of the judiciary committee and close ally to Trump, has said multiple times over the years that he will never allow this scenario to happen. He’d never let a sitting president choose a judge close to an election. He’s even said things like “use my words against me” on camera. And here we are, and you better believe Democrats are going to use his words against him. And they’ll ride that outrage all the way to a Senate win in November, something that used to be completely out of reach.
So that’s my prediction. When all is said and done, Trump is going to get his seat. But in doing so, he’s going to further tarnish the GOP brand, lose the White House, lose the Senate, and have no chance at regaining the House. Add that to the reality that a Republican president has only won the popular vote a single time since 1988, and the fact that Texas will be voting for the Democrat in about ten years, if current trends hold. And remember that even if Trump loses, he’s going to control the party from the outside for years, steering them into ditch after ditch. We all know he won’t go quietly, and that he’s not good at reaching anyone outside the base. That’s a bad combo for the GOP.
So add it all up, and that all means that the very best scenario for the GOP is stealing yet another seat … and delivering another fatal blow to their party’s reputation with swing voters. The very best thing for these vulnerable Republican senators would have been to put their heads down, say no comment to all controversial topics, and hope the mood towards Republicans magically improves in the next month, letting them squeak by and maybe keep the Senate.
Instead, RBG’s death has been weaponised against them. Now they’ll be forced to make a very public statement: do Republicans care more about power and party, or fairness to their country? The fact that most Americans know the sad answer is a huge marketing problem for the health of their party. The fact that RBG, in death, is making them admit it publicly for the whole world to see? That’s a blessing.
Thank you, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We’ll take it from here.