The Democratic donation-processing site ActBlue reported it had raised a record $20 million during the four hours after the announcement of Ginsburg’s death. Don’t be surprised if Republican organizations also report some eye-popping fundraising numbers.
President Trump on Saturday made clear that he wants to see his nominee put on the closely divided Supreme Court “without delay,” which assures a monumental fight as Election Day approaches. If he succeeds, it would tip the balance of the court from a 5-to-4 conservative majority to 6 to 3, altering the legal landscape around issues that range from abortion and gay rights to health care and the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches.
Practically as soon as news of Ginsburg’s death got out, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) put out a statement vowing, “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
But that means Republicans will be put in a position of having to defend themselves against their obvious hypocrisy, given how they refused to do the same when President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland eight months before the 2016 election. “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” McConnell said back then. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.”
McConnell has never put a priority on consistency over political imperatives, but he is surely weighing whether moving too quickly could further endanger his fragile Senate majority. His statement Friday night was conspicuous for the fact that it skirted the issue of timing. Will this take place before or after the election? And the majority leader quickly circulated a letter telling GOP senators to “be cautious and keep your powder dry.”
So which side stands to gain politically in the coming battle?
It is hard to tell what this additional factor will mean at a time when voters are already dealing with the covid-19 pandemic and the economic devastation it has caused, along with a national reckoning on racial justice that has brought violence to the streets of some major U.S. cities.
There are several demographic groups that are worth watching closely.
Traditionally, White evangelicals have been seen as the demographic most sensitive to the politics of court nominations. Exit polls in 2016 indicated that slightly more than a quarter of voters described themselves as White born-again or evangelical Christians, and they went for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by a margin of 81 to 16 percent.
An array of recent surveys — including polls conducted by The Post and ABC News, Fox News, and NPR and PBS’s NewsHour — show little or no slippage in White evangelical support and enthusiasm for the president. That suggests that any additional benefit Trump receives from the energy surrounding a Supreme Court fight is likely to come only at the margins.
It might, however, bring back some of Trump’s sagging support among non-college-educated women, many of whom are conservative on social issues and oppose abortion. Particularly if Trump picks a woman, he can appeal to these voters by having something to talk about other than covid-19 and someone to talk about other than himself.
On the other hand, “Notorious RBG” was practically a superhero to young women, to the point that they wore her image on their earrings, their T-shirts and their socks. There have been concerns that former vice president Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, may be unable to mobilize the support he needs among young people.
Ginsburg’s dying wish that her successor be appointed by the next president may help the Democrats solve that problem. As Republican pollster Christine Matthews told me: “If they won’t show up to vote for Biden, they’ll vote for Ruth.”
Where the coming battle is likely to have its greatest effect is in key Senate races, in which a three-seat swing, coupled with a Biden win, could topple the Republican majority.
For instance, the Arizona contest is actually a special election to fill the vacancy left by the death of Republican John McCain. Democratic challenger Mark Kelly leads in the polls against Republican Martha McSally, who was appointed in 2018 to fill it in the interim.
If Kelly wins, he could be sworn in as early as Nov 30 — which conceivably would have him in place to vote on whomever Trump nominates.
Perhaps the only thing the coming battle to replace Ginsburg has made clearer is this: 2020 will be an election in which the stakes have rarely been higher.