Because karma is a cruel mistress, this all but guarantees that a Democratic seat will open up in spring of 2020.
Bear in mind before you watch what sort of political circumstances the GOP realistically could be facing at that time. They may well have already lost in the House two years earlier. (Current electoral models heavily favor a Democratic takeover this fall.) House Democrats will have spent the entirety of 2019 trying to damage Trump with investigations into his business and private life, with some greater or lesser degree of success. Mueller might have accused POTUS of obstruction of justice. The next recession might be upon us. No matter what else happens, it’s guaranteed that Republicans will be facing a difficult Senate map that fall. Just as it’s Democrats’ turn this year to defend a bunch of seats where they’re vulnerable, it’ll be Republicans’ turn in 2020.
Depending upon how poor Trump’s job approval is — and even in the best of circumstances so far, it seems to top out at 45 percent or so — there may be very good reason to expect a total Democratic takeover of government that fall. It could easily be eight years before the GOP has another chance to confirm a conservative justice.
And now here’s Lindsey Graham insisting that, as would-be chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he’d risk forfeiting that chance.
Which would be the principled, consistent thing to do post-Garland. Defending Graham’s logic is much easier than defending a decision to reverse course and ram the nominee through in 2020 would be. Supreme Court confirmations are the most cutthroat bloodsport in American politics but even the arguments advanced by each side in that arena typically enjoy the trappings of “principle.” There’d be no obvious faux-principled way to deviate from the Garland precedent if a vacancy opened in 2020, though. It’d be pure power politics and would have to be acknowledged as such.
But does anyone think Republican voters wouldn’t insist upon it? A fleeting chance to install a 6-3 right-wing majority on the Court that might last a generation … and they’re going to let it go by the boards because Lindsey Graham thinks the party needs to be consistent? If Republican leaders are afraid of angering conservatives now by borking Kavanaugh, even though there’s a strong likelihood that a Republican majority will get to approve a replacement nominee next year, imagine the anger if they decided to hold open a Democratic vacancy which they briefly had it in their power to fill. That’s no mere hypothetical for Graham either, as he’s on the ballot himself in 2020. I wonder how strong his commitment to the principle he articulates will be if the SCOTUS vacancy happens to open up before his own Senate primary that year rather than after.
There’s one X-factor working in his favor. Trump’s ego is so massive that he might convince himself that he has 2020 in the bag regardless of who his opponent is, in which case he might decide to back a move like this. “Go ahead and hold the seat open!” he might say. “I’ll just fill it in 2021.” That was also to some extent the Democratic reaction to Garland being blocked in 2016. They were annoyed at McConnell for it, but given the supposed pushover they were facing in the presidential election, they assumed Hillary would be able to fill the seat in 2017 — maybe even with a candidate to Garland’s left.
I’m sure nothing will go wrong with Trump’s own version of that calculation.
Sen. @LindseyGrahamSC: "If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump's term, and the primary process has started, we'll wait 'til the next election." #SCOTUS #TheAtlanticFest pic.twitter.com/3he6LCGDeC
— CSPAN (@cspan) October 3, 2018