MADISON — Hillary Clinton aimed to make it a little harder for Republicans to distance down-ballot candidates from their top-of-the-ticket presidential nominee.
In a speech on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Monday, Clinton tied the entire Republican Party — and the fight over the replacement for the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia— to the candidacies of businessman Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
“The death of Justice Scalia marked the end of an era,” Clinton said. “The same obstructionism that we’ve seen from Republicans since the beginning of the Obama administration, the same disregard for the rule of law that’s given rise of the extremist candidacies of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, it’s corroding our democracy, and it has to stop."
Clinton spoke in a part of the state that she readily acknowledged leaned toward her Democratic opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. And her comments were aimed at his supporters, who are among the Democratic Party's most ardent progressives.
The message was simple: if you care about progressive causes and money in politics, then the Supreme Court is the single most important issue on the ballot in November.
"For a long time now, the ideological bent of the court has led our country in the wrong direction, especially when it comes to stacking the deck in favor of the already wealthy and powerful,” Clinton said. “If we’re serious about fighting for progressive causes, we need to focus on the courts."
Clinton called on Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) to hold a hearing on President Obama’s nominee to fill Scalia’s seat, Merrick Garland. And she said that the fight over Scalia’s replacement has revealed “the worst of our politics."
“I'd say my voice is being ignored right now, and so is yours,” Clinton said. “We chose a president; we chose him twice. And now Republicans in the Senate are acting like our votes didn’t count and that President Obama is not still our nation’s leader."
“Those are not high-minded principles, they are low-minded politics,” she added.
The message was as much for Democrats in the room as it was for the party at large, signaling her willingness to lead the charge to lash Republicans up and down the ballot to Trump, who is the current front-runner.
Taking a page from Obama’s playbook, Clinton accused Republicans of essentially creating Trump by opposing Obama at every turn after his election.
“What Republicans have sown with their extremist tactics they are now reaping with Donald Trump’s candidacy,” Clinton said. "It wasn’t long after [Kentucky Sen. Mitch] McConnell said the number one goal was to prevent the president’s reelection that Donald Trump started his racist campaign to discredit the president’s citizenship.”
She added that Cruz’s strategy to “hold the government hostage to get his way” is also connected to Trump’s birther advocacy.
"When you have leaders willing to bring the whole of government to a halt to make headlines, you may just give rise to candidates who promise to do even more radical and dangerous things,” Clinton added. “Because once you make the extreme normal, you open the door to even worse."
Clinton is campaigning for two days this week in Wisconsin, a state where her campaign believes that Sanders has an advantage. But she has increasingly moved to steer the campaign toward the general election by taking on Trump in particular. The goal: to raise the stakes for Democrats by warning of the risks of a Trump presidency.
"As scary as it might be, ask yourselves: what kind of justice would a President Trump appoint?” Clinton asked. “Or for that matter, what kind of attorney general? What kind of lower court judges?”
"This election has ripped away the curtain and made it absolutely clear to everyone how essential the Supreme Court is to those decisions as well,” Clinton said.