A new CBS News poll out this morning finds that Donald Trump continues to dominate among Republican voters nationally: He’s backed by 35 percent; Ted Cruz has 18 percent; and Marco-Mentum has 12 percent. There was a great deal of excitement about yesterday’s NBC poll finding Trump had slipped behind Cruz, but that now looks like it may have been an outlier.

But never mind that for now. Buried in the CBS poll is a nugget that is relevant to the escalating brawl over whether Republicans will consider and vote on President Obama’s forthcoming nominee to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court:

Republican primary voters are split between Donald Trump (25 percent) and Ted Cruz (25 percent) over who is most trusted to make appointments to the Supreme Court. Moderates strongly favor Trump (27 percent), while conservatives favor Cruz, and those who consider themselves very conservative chose Cruz (38 percent) over Trump (19 percent).

Half of GOP primary voters trust Trump or Cruz most to make Supreme Court appointments, which is to say, to pick Scalia’s replacement. Cruz would probably nominate someone very much in the Scalia mold, naturally, but there is simply no telling what kind of nominee Trump would pick, given the haphazard nature of his views.

And yet, a quarter of Republican voters trust Trump most anyway. That may reflect a belief among his supporters that he’ll shake up the system on every front, so why not the High Court, too? But regardless, it’s hard to see how all those Republican voters — not to say those who trust Cruz most on this — could ever abide the Republican establishment giving Obama’s nominee a real hearing.

Presidential candidate Ted Cruz says the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is one reason why voters need to vote him into the White House. (Reuters)

Indeed, CNN reports that senior Republicans are in the process of deciding that their best political move is not to give Obama’s nomination any consideration at all:

In back-channel conversations with senators and among senior party officials, Republicans are arguing that denying a hearing to Obama’s choice would allow them to better make the case that voters should have a say in the next Supreme Court justice — not members of the Senate and a lame-duck president.
If Republicans held confirmation proceedings, several Republicans told CNN, that argument would be badly muddied. Moreover, they risk giving Obama’s choice an opportunity to detail his or her life story and legal qualifications, and they’d rather stop the nominee before giving the White House and Senate Democrats a chance to build momentum.

Perfect: If the American people get real exposure to Obama’s nominee, it might make it harder for us to vote No, so better not to allow any exposure at all! Now, as I noted yesterday, Republicans are under no obligation to consider and vote on Obama’s nominee. This is a political fight that will turn on perceived norms. The only way Democrats can force Republicans to cave here is by successfully portraying the GOP refusal to consider any nominee as so deeply unreasonable and dysfunctional that Republicans decide they’re sustaining too much damage among swing voters to continue holding out.

But both the new CBS poll and the new NBC poll show the American people are almost exactly split on this question right now. Both find that more than eighty percent of Republicans don’t think Obama should get to choose Scalia’s replacement. Meanwhile, conservative talk radio hosts are already defining any consideration of Obama’s nominee as surrender. So you’d think that if Republicans allow hearings, whether or not they actually intend to evaluate Obama’s pick on the substance, the spectacle itself would only help Trump and/or Cruz, which senior Republicans don’t want to do.

Additionally, per CNN’s reporting above, the problem for Republicans is also that, if they do go through the motions of giving Obama’s choice a hearing, it will allow the voters to learn more about that person, which could risk requiring them to oppose someone the public comes to support. (Backing Obama’s nominee is apparently a self-evident impossibility.) So the only way out might be to do nothing. The question will then be whether Democrats can extract serious, lasting political pain from it.


* HILLARY ROLLS OUT EMOTIONAL AD ON DEPORTATIONS: The Hillary Clinton campaign is up with this new ad in Nevada:

A Clinton campaign video shows the Democratic candidate embracing a 10-year-old who said she was "scared" after her parents received "a letter of deportation." (Hillary Clinton)

The outcome of the Nevada caucuses this Saturday will be heavily parsed for what it says about Sanders’s ability to make inroads among nonwhites, particularly (in this case) Latinos.

* BERNIE IS MORE ELECTABLE, POLLSTER SAYS: A new Quinnipiac poll finds that Bernie Sanders would beat all of the GOP candidates in November (he tops Trump by 48-42; Cruz by 49-39; and Rubio by 47-41) By contrast, Hillary ties Trump and loses to Rubio (41-48) and to Cruz 43-46).

This will stir a lot of chatter, but remember: general election polling this far out is largely meaningless, because voters nationally just aren’t paying attention yet. This is also true of any polling that shows Clinton performing better.

* POLL FINDING OF THE DAY, PRESIDENT TRUMP EDITION: A striking nugget from the new Quinnipiac poll: 55 percent of Americans, and 78 percent of Republicans, think Trump has a good chance of defeating the Dem nominee in the general election.

One supposes the American people aren’t paying very close attention to the debate in Washington right now! This is also another sign that general election polling this early tells us very little.

* LEFTY GROUPS GEAR UP FOR SCALIA COURT FIGHT: Tomorrow, six progressive groups — including the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Civic Action, and People for the American way — will hold an event in Senator Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, to pressure him to consider Obama’s nominee to replace Antonin Scalia. Per a release: “Louisville area voters will deliver over half a million petition signatures to his office demanding he allow the process to move forward.”

The engagement of liberal groups is another sign that the battle over whether Republicans will consider a Scalia replacement is energizing the base and is seen as a way to unify the Democratic Party and focus it on a common target.

*  A BREAKOUT ISSUE FOR 2016? Here’s something to watch: Senior GOP pollster Ed Goeas has released a new poll that finds that large majorities in a number of key battleground states favor criminal justice reform. Goeas says:

We looked at attitudes in Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, and Wisconsin–key battleground or bellwether states. In each one, likely voters overwhelmingly agreed that our criminal justice system imprisons too many people for too long, that mandatory minimum sentences should be replaced, and that judges should have greater discretion in determining sentences….Americans across the political spectrum support these reforms.

This really holds the promise of uniting the libertarian right and the civil liberties left. It’s a big issue in the Dem primary right now, and a number of Congressional Republicans would support it. But will GOP leaders in Congress allow it to move forward?

* AND HERE COMES THE BENGHAZI REPORT!!! OR MAYBE NOT: Rep. Trey Gowdy, the ringleader of the House GOP Benghazi probe, released a statement this morning boasting that the committee has gained access to new national security information and has interviewed dozens of witnesses never before interviewed in all the previous Benghazi investigations. Gowdy promised that the results would be released “as soon as possible.”

Hmmm. Something tells us that “as soon as possible” may somehow stretch into eight months…meaning the probe’s findings will be released in October, just before the election.