On Sunday, the day after Antonin Scalia's death threw the political world another curveball, Fix Boss Chris Cillizza wrote that the Supreme Court vacancy would be a good thing for one man: Ted Cruz.
Chris's argument was that the vacancy puts a premium on replacing Scalia with a "true conservative" -- something Cruz would be the clear choice to do as president.
And it makes sense: Cruz won 44 percent of "very conservative" voters in Iowa and 38 percent of those who said the most important thing in a candidate was that he "shares my values" -- both going a long way to help him win the state. In New Hampshire, Cruz didn't win, but he did win most of of those who picked values as their No. 1 priority, and his share of the "very conservative" crowd was far bigger (23 percent) than his overall share of the vote (12 percent).
So I get it; people will want Scalia -- a very conservative justice, if there ever was one -- to be replaced by a very conservative nominee. And Cruz would certainly provide that.
But I somewhat disagree with Chris, in that I think this could actually help the GOP establishment, in the end.
I do so with some trepidation, given there have been so many things that have been purported to help the GOP establishment finally wrest control of this race from Cruz and Donald Trump. And none of them have actually worked. So I am loath to be the latest to be wrong about this.
That being said, my feeling on this goes back to something I wrote a while back about an argument the establishment hopefuls should have been making all along. That argument was and is this: The GOP needs to win the presidency, period, so that it can fill a number of possible Supreme Court vacancies (framed against Trump at that time, but also applying to Cruz now):
But there's an argument against Trump that nobody is making -- at least not yet -- that would seem to be pretty potent. And it is this: There is the potential for multiple Supreme Court justice vacancies during the next presidential term -- four justices are 74 or older, two of whom come from the liberal side of the court and one of whom is the swing vote (Anthony Kennedy) -- which means the party that wins the 2016 election could have a huge impact on the next few decades of the highest level of jurisprudence.
This, after all, is the same court that just legalized gay marriage nationwide and upheld Obamacare twice. And Republicans have noticed; a new Gallup poll shows the court has never been more unpopular – in large part because the GOP has turned overwhelmingly against it.
If you are a GOP primary voter thinking about voting for Trump or Ben Carson, that would seem to be a pretty compelling reason to think about a more traditional/electable choice. Trump, after all, regularly polls with an unfavorable rating around 60 percent. For all his momentum in the GOP race, he's still broadly disliked.
For a while there, this argument was looking less than ideal. That's because, despite his overall unpopularity, GOP voters told pollsters they still saw Trump, overwhelmingly, as being the most electable Republican.
Here's the thing, though: That could be starting to change.
In Iowa, 44 percent of those who said winning was their top priority picked Marco Rubio -- compared to his 23 percent share of the overall vote. Meanwhile, Trump and Cruz both underperformed slightly among this group.
In New Hampshire, Trump won the electability demographic -- just like he did basically every other demographic. But, again, he underperformed among this group. Rubio, meanwhile, way overperformed, taking 29 percent of this group, versus 11 percent overall.
So Rubio has done very well among these voters; his problem is that they haven't been a huge portion of the electorate -- just 21 percent in Iowa and 12 percent in New Hampshire.
Back in 2012, by contrast, they were a much more significant force -- 31 percent in Iowa and 35 percent in New Hampshire. This was a major reason Mitt Romney went on to win the nomination.
The difference between then and now is that, back then, electability was about unseating the Republicans' Public Enemy No. 1, Barack Obama. Today, the race is more amorphous, with no clear-cut GOP establishment pick who carries the banner of electability (and no clear-cut Democratic nominee who Must Be Defeated). Rubio came close and began to make that argument -- his best argument, in my opinion -- but he suffered a major setback in New Hampshire.
(For what it's worth, I think if the establishment candidate turns out to be Jeb Bush, this all helps less, given that Bush's brother and dad have appointed justices who turned out to be liberal -- H.W. Bush's pick of David Souter -- and voted against the conservative side of the court on key issues such as Obamacare -- W. Bush's pick of John Roberts. Trump has already hammered Bush on this point.)
Electability still isn't a major concern for GOP voters, but stuff like a Supreme Court vacancy could make "just win, baby" a more appealing argument in the GOP primary. It could also, of course, put a premium on electing a candidate who would appoint the most conservative justice possible.
If it's more the former, I'm right. If it's the latter, Chris is right.