So Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, a Republican, has pulled his name from consideration to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. The floating of Sandoval was probably never more than an elaborate trolling exercise aimed at Republicans, but it served as a reminder that, before long, there actually will be a nominee, which will shift the political dynamic. Senate Republicans, of course, continue to vow that this nominee won’t get any hearing, no matter who it is.
But here’s one scenario in which it might be hard for Republicans to sustain that posture.
Let’s fast forward three weeks, to mid-March.
A new Quinnipiac poll today found Donald Trump leading Marco Rubio by 44-28 among likely GOP primary voters in Florida. A second poll today found it much closer, at 34-27, but it is now at least possible that Trump could defeat Rubio in his home state on March 15th, which would seem to put him well on his way to winning the nomination. Even if Trump loses Florida, it’s plausible he could still amass a near-insurmountable delegate advantage by then.
In three weeks, Obama will have picked his nominee. CNN has a short-list of possible picks right here; it seems likely that he or she will be thoroughly within the legal mainstream — someone such as Sri Srinivasan, who is “considered a moderate,” has been praised by Republicans, and was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit by a 97-0 vote. The White House almost certainly does not think Republicans can maintain their no-action posture for too long, so Obama might nominate a moderate on the off chance that he or she might actually get through, allowing him to further shape the Court.
So in three weeks, though this is anything but assured, Trump could be the presumed nominee. If so, all heck will be breaking loose in the GOP asylum, which will be looking more out of control than ever. And Obama will have picked his choice for the Court. Are Republicans really going to continue to refuse to give any hearings to, or even meet with, a moderate Supreme Court nominee at that point?
Maybe. But remember, Republicans themselves worry that if Trump is the nominee, they will be at dire risk of losing the Senate and the White House. That chatter will be a lot louder if Trump looks like he’s got an insurmountable delegate lead. That in turn will give rise to the obvious next question: should Republicans really risk not confirming Obama’s nominee, if it could mean that President Hillary Clinton — her nomination could also look more likely in three weeks — will get to pick Scalia’s replacement, with the help of a Democratic Senate? (If you want more on the various permutations in that scenario, go here.)
Now, it’s possible that even if things do go in this direction, Republicans could continue refusing to hold any hearings, because — as they themselves have revealed — they calculate that so doing could draw more attention to the nominee, making it harder still to oppose that person. But this posture might — might — get tougher once there’s a specific nominee. Combine the media coverage of that nominee’s life story and qualifications with wall-to-wall attention to Trump tightening his grip on the nomination, and reporters might begin asking vulnerable Republican Senators who are up for reelection in Obama states: You really won’t give any hearing to Obama’s nominee, but you’d gladly give a full hearing to President Trump’s pick to replace Scalia, instead?
Obviously they wouldn’t directly answer that question. But the point is that not considering Obama’s nominee at all could become a lot harder to sustain, if and when maximum Trump crazy breaks out.