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Opinion This harsh new ad shows what a disaster Trump is for the GOP

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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As your humble blogger has suggested, if Donald Trump tightens his grip on the GOP nomination, it could get harder and harder for Republicans to stick to their stance of refusing to give any consideration to President Obama’s nominee (no matter who it is) to the Supreme Court. That’s because GOP Senators — including vulnerable incumbents up for reelection this year — may be pressed to say whether they would really give President Trump’s nominee a fair hearing, while denying one to Obama’s.

Now Democrats are ramping up their efforts to use the specter of Trump marching towards the nomination to pressure Republicans to cave in the court battle.

Amber Phillips reports that the Senate Majority PAC, which is devoted to electing Democrats to the Senate, is airing this new ad in New Hampshire, attacking Senator Kelly Ayotte for standing with the GOP refusal to consider Obama’s nominee. Note who stars in the ad — his last name rhymes with “chump”:

The Harry Reid-affiliated Senate Majority PAC released an attack ad against Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) (Video: YouTube/Senate Majority PAC)

The ad says: “Donald Trump wants the Senate to delay filling the Supreme Court vacancy so he can choose the nominee next year. And Senator Kelly Ayotte is right there to help. Ayotte joined Trump and party bosses in refusing to consider any nominee.”

The ad also rips Ayotte for “ignoring the Constitution,” which isn’t really fair, since experts say the Constitution is silent on the particular dispute at issue here. But the broader point — that Ayotte’s implicit position is that if Trump is elected president, his nominee should get a hearing, while Obama’s shouldn’t — is fair game. After all, the Republican argument is that it would be inherently wrong to give Obama’s nominee a hearing in the last year of his second term, an election year, since so doing would flout the will of the people (even though Obama was elected by popular majorities twice).

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As Phillips reports, there is $220,000 behind the ad, and the strategy is as follows:

Senate Democrats are hoping the Supreme Court blockade will hurt Republicans in blue-leaning states with blue-leaning independents — especially when they can pair their attacks with a Trump double-whammy….
Ads aren’t the only indication of how hopeful Senate Democrats are that the confirmation battle will resonate with voters. They’ve found a serious candidate, former Iowa lieutenant governor Patty Judge, to challenge the once-unchangeable Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who in his role as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee is taking most of the heat for blocking Obama’s nominee….
Whom Obama actually chooses as his nominee could change everyone’s calculations….Obama appears to be considering judges with relatively little experience or partisan leaning one way or the other. Refusing to even meet with a fairly moderate, noncontroversial nominee could make Senate Republicans look unreasonably political, the reasoning goes.

A number of other vulnerable Republican Senators are up for reelection in states carried by Obama, which might make this position harder for them to sustain, so there may be more ads like this one.

“Trump is going to be a drag on down-ballot Republicans across the map,” a Democratic operative involved in planning strategy for the Senate races tells me. “Don’t be surprised if you see more of this.”

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that 55 percent of Americans disapprove of the GOP decision not to consider Obama’s nominee, while only 28 percent approve of it. (Other polls have shown differing results, depending on question wording.) But the rub is that, in the NBC poll, 55 percent of Republicans support the GOP stance (while only 25 percent of independents support it), meaning that giving Obama’s nominee a hearing risks angering the GOP base. Making that worse, such a move would be widely characterized by conservatives as surrender.

Meanwhile, Senate GOP leaders have been quite open about another of their reasons for not giving the nominee any consideration: So doing could draw more public attention to that person, making it even harder to oppose the nominee later.

But it’s possible the politics of doing nothing could continue to deteriorate for Republicans. There are some signs that Obama’s approval may be rising. The new NBC poll has him at 49 percent. This week’s Post/ABC poll has him at 51 percent. And Gallup also has put him at that level in recent days. It’s possible this reflects either an improving an economy or a reaction to the outbreaks of crazy we’re seeing in the GOP nomination battle, but either way, if it continues, GOP Senators in Obama states might find this position harder to sustain.

Also consider that by later in March, Trump may have won in states like Florida and Ohio. At the same time, Obama may have rolled out his nominee, who is likely to be a moderate. The confluence of factors at that point could be as follows: Trump increasingly looks like the all-but-certain GOP nominee, and the media coverage of the bedlam on the GOP side is on full boil. At the same time, Republicans continue to refuse any hearing to — or even meet with — Obama’s nominee, whose qualifications and life story are receiving widespread media attention.

It’s always possible, of course, that in spite of all this, Republicans may stick to their calculation that all this won’t really matter to voters in November, even in close Senate races. Or they may continue to calculate that considering Obama’s nominee has more political downsides than doing nothing. At that point the question will be: how much pain can Democrats extract from this stance? The above ad gives a hint as to how they’ll try to maximize it.