Headwinds: McConnell nudging Republican judges to retire soon if they're so inclined, fearing Senate wipeout this fall

Headwinds: McConnell nudging Republican judges to retire soon if they're so inclined, fearing Senate wipeout this fall

My idealistic side thinks it’s inappropriate for politicians to be leaning on judges to quit sooner rather than later for nakedly partisan reasons.

My realistic side thinks only a chump would believe judges aren’t partisan political actors themselves. No one on the federal bench needed McConnell to explain this calculus to them.

Which raises a question: Are we about to see Clarence Thomas step down soon?

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, who has used his position as majority leader to build a judicial confirmation juggernaut for President Trump over the past three years, has been personally reaching out to judges to sound them out on their plans and assure them that they would have a worthy successor if they gave up their seats soon, according to multiple people with knowledge of his actions.

It was not known how many judges were contacted or which of them Mr. McConnell had spoken to directly. One of his Republican colleagues said others had also initiated outreach in an effort to heighten awareness among judges nominated by Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush and George W. Bush that making the change now would be advantageous…

According to a tally by the Article III Project, more than 90 judges nominated by the three previous Republican presidents are either now eligible or will become eligible this year to take what is known as senior status, a form of semiretirement that enables their slots to be filled even though they can still hear cases, hire clerks and receive full pay.

Thomas is still just 71 years old as he approaches the start of his fourth decade on the Court. If he can hang in there for another decade, he’d become the longest-serving justice in American history. But he really might have to hang in there for a decade or so to ensure that his replacement is appointed by a Republican if he opts not to retire this year. That’s what McConnell’s gambit is all about, of course — as coronavirus spreads and the economy contracts, so too do Trump’s chances of reelection. As recently as a month ago, with impeachment behind him, the Dow approaching 30,000, and Bernie Sanders looking surprisingly strong in the early states, I’d have given Trump something like 75/25 odds of a second term. A month later, the Dow is a smoking crater and Bernie’s just about done, swallowed up by a shocking burst of Joementum. What are Trump’s odds against a far less radical Democrat, one who’s popular among blacks, working-class whites, and suburbanites?

Before you answer, digest this:

Fingers crossed that we don’t end up in an out-and-out depression due to social distancing measures. Don’t answer yet until you’ve digested this too:

President Trump told a group of governors Monday morning that they should not wait for the federal government to fill the growing demand for respirators needed to help people diagnosed with coronavirus.

“Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment — try getting it yourselves,” Mr. Trump told the governors during the conference call, a recording of which was shared with The New York Times.

“We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves. Point of sales, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourself.”

If the CDC hadn’t farked up testing beyond all recognition, a statement like that would be more palatable. (Federalism!) Because they did fark it up beyond all recognition, a statement like that adds to the perception of general incompetence and unpreparedness by the federal government. E.g.:

That perception can and will easily change if the outbreak ends up being less severe than feared. If the summer slows it down, if belated social distancing measures succeed in “flattening the curve,” then Trump can declare victory and swing voters won’t much care that he spent months shrugging off the threat as it spread in China. Blunt the spread of the disease, hope for some sort of economic rebound in the third quarter, and then he’s probably no worse than a 50/50 bet for reelection in spite of everything.

But everything needs to go well for him now. If it doesn’t, the early denialism about the threat and the blame-shifting quotes like “try getting it yourselves” or “I don’t take responsibility at all” will be used against him to powerful effect. If see a massive outbreak with hospitals overwhelmed and/or a sluggish economy, my guess is he’d be no better than 40/60 to win. Or lower, of course, depending on how much worse things get.

The GOP’s already suffered a worst-case scenario in the trifecta of coronavirus, the economic slowdown, and a Biden resurgence. If Bernie were headed towards becoming the nominee, Republicans would still have a strong argument in the fall: Don’t succumb to socialism just because times are tough now. That would be a perilous moment politically for the country; amid widespread disease and poverty, America would be unusually receptive to calls for a radical reorganization of its economic and political system. But a message of “just say no to socialism” would still appeal to suburbanites. As it is, Republicans will face an addled but amiable figure in Joe Biden, against whom the warnings about socialism won’t stick nearly as well. New numbers from Monmouth out of the purplish state of Arizona:

Biden has led him in every survey of the state taken this month. Meanwhile in Ohio, which was solid red in 2016:

The Trump/Biden data isn’t the only bad news from Arizona either:

Kelly has also led McSally in every poll taken this month, some of them quite comfortably. That Senate seat seems increasingly likely to flip. Meanwhile, Susan Collins is neck-and-neck in Maine, Thom Tillis has a stiff challenge in North Carolina, and Cory Gardner is up against former Gov. John Hickenlooper in Colorado. If Dems flip those four and Biden beats Trump, they have a de facto Senate majority at 50/50 with Biden’s VP the tiebreaking vote even if Doug Jones loses his seat in Alabama. (They could win an outright majority of 51 seats if Steve Bullock, a formidable candidate, beats Steve Daines in Montana too.) That’s why McConnell’s calling around to Republican judges. Unless Trump — and the rest of us — catch a very lucky break on coronavirus and the economy, Biden is favored to win at this particular moment in time.

Exit quotation from a future president, peering into the minds of voters:

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Jazz Shaw 5:21 PM on September 27, 2023