Checkmate for Senate Repubs?

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April 28, 2016 4:50 p.m.
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I never thought Democrats would be able to force Republicans to hold a vote on Judge Garland this year, at least not before the election. But from the beginning I suspected that their refusal to do so would likely cost them the Senate. Not that the public would or will necessarily rise up and toss out the Republicans over the Supreme Court, certainly not for Garland himself. But as I explained earlier, the refusal to do what really everyone understands is a basic job responsibility of Senators is potentially lethal politically for Republican senators in blue states who are only barely holding on in a presidential election year in any case. The key thing is that that this ‘not doing your job’ argument is most powerful with loosely politicized voters with minimal partisan attachments – precisely the people, the relatively few people, who are genuinely up for grabs in these kinds of elections.

But Trump’s all but certain nomination adds an important new twist.

The likelihood of Trump’s nomination was there for anyone to see in February when Republicans committed to this position. Now that it’s all but a certainly it casts the these swing states senate races in a much grimmer light for the incumbents.

Assuming Clinton v Trump plays out anything like what now seems likely, Trump is likely to lose and lose big in these states. These senators need to do everything they can to localize these elections and portray themselves as independent players in Washington politics. That’s always the plan when you’re tacking against a strong headwind like this.

My read is that the SCOTUS blockade largely blocks off that route for this election. It’s really hard to cast yourself as ‘independent’, representing your state rather than a national political party, when you are not only doing something that is obviously and even explicitly for the national political party, but when you are obviously being damaged politically for doing so. So the fact that it’s damaging and obviously damaging makes it even more damaging, if that makes sense. If you’re willing to endanger your own reelection to avoid bucking your DC team, you’re pretty obviously not independent at all.

It’s sort of like chess when you have to move to avoid one attack only to realize that the places to move to are also under attack. I’m not saying there are no options. I’m not saying it’s checkmate or – to extend the chess metaphor – that the piece is lost in the case of a lesser piece. But put these two things – Trump and Garland – together and the logical move is pretty close to blocked.

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