For instance, Trump’s first two nominees to the Supreme Court (Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh) demurred when asked about their position on Roe v. Wade during their confirmation process, calling it a “precedent” and saying little else. They did this because even though outlawing abortion is the driving impulse behind the conservative movement’s fixation on the courts, it is far too unpopular a position with the general public for any nominee to dare support it explicitly. Poll after poll in recent years show that around 70 percent of the country believes Roe should not be overturned.
But the newest additions to Trump’s shortlist have no such scruples. Moments after Trump added Sen. Tom Cotton to his shortlist, Cotton tweeted, “It’s time for Roe v. Wade to go.” This type of red-meat statement will certainly go over with conservative audiences, but it is not a message that Cotton’s colleagues in tough Senate races will want to run on.
The risk for Republicans is similar on the issue of health care. This fall, the Trump administration will appear before the Supreme Court to seek an end to the Affordable Care Act. This move could result in eventually kicking millions of Americans off their insurance and, according to estimates by the Center for American Progress, ripping away protections from around 135 million people with pre-existing conditions.
Past Republican Supreme Court nominees would have refused to publicly speculate about how they would rule on this case. But there’s no need to wonder what a nominee like Cruz thinks about the Affordable Care Act — he’s spent nearly a decade of his life fighting to repeal it. Republicans lost the 2018 election in large part because voters disagreed with their goal of taking health care coverage from millions. Now every Republican running for Senate will have to answer whether they would vote to allow Cruz undermine health care access in the middle of a pandemic.