As the debate over replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court rages on, we’re seeing a lot of media outlets highlighting flip-flops from politicians who seem to be viewing the current battle very differently than the one over Merrick Garland in 2016. But much of this discussion has focused only on one group of elected officials, primarily Republican Senators. This article from the Hill offers a sterling example of the phenomenon. Numerous Republicans who had plenty to say about the nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016 are having their old statements thrown back in their faces now. (And deservedly so, I might add.) But there’s another side to this story that mysteriously seems to be missing. First, here’s a look at some of the GOP members accused of having a “change of heart” to put it mildly.
Questioned aggressively by Fox News’s Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday over whether Republicans were being hypocritical on the issue, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) held his ground.
Wallace played video of comments by Cotton in 2016 arguing it would be wrong for the Senate to vote on a replacement for Scalia before the presidential election.
“Why would we squelch the voice of the people? Why would we deny the voters a chance to weigh in on the makeup of the Supreme Court?” Cotton said on the Senate floor in 2016.
“You don’t see any hypocrisy between that position then and this position now?” Wallace asked.
Tom Cotton is hardly the only one facing this sort of scrutiny. Lyndsey Graham has been reminded that he said such replacement shouldn’t be made in an election year and people should remember what he said. But he’s now supporting a hearing for Trump’s nominee. Lamar Alexander is in a similar boat. Mitch McConnell himself made arguments against a hearing for Garland in 2016 but is now preparing to move forward. His explanation of why party control of the Senate and White House is the determining factor is, to be honest, rather weak tea.
So is there some hypocrisy on display, or al least “flexible” rationalization based on convenience? Of course there is. The two parties, particularly in the Senate, have been doing this dance for years on a variety of issues including the filibuster. (The Democrats killed part of the filibuster first, but the GOP drove another stake in its heart later. Now the Democrats are ready to do away with it entirely if they take full control next year.)
But now let’s get to the missing part of the equation. Back in 2016, the Democrats had plenty to say themselves, much of which is being conveniently forgotten by the media. There was a hashtag going around on Twitter back then demanding that Republicans #DoYourJob and hold hearings on Garland. Those calls continued straight up through August and September as the election approached. And who was using that hashtag during that period? Barack Obama, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, just to name a few. All of the Democrats were screaming that Garland needed to be seated prior to the election, and that was when it was still widely expected that Hillary Clinton was going to win anyway.
But we’re not hearing so much as a peep about those quotes on most of the cable news outlets. It’s almost as if the idea of debating when and how a SCOTUS nominee should be considered was just invented in the past few days. All the rest has largely gone down the memory hole unless you’re following some traditionally conservative news outlets.
Look, the fact is that both parties have demonstrated some serious hypocrisy and flip-flopping on this question. It’s based entirely on the convenience of the moment and the best possible outcome as perceived by the various actors on this stage. Pretending otherwise is nothing but willful ignorance. But the fact is that politics is a battlefield. It always has been, but it’s even more true today than it was in the distant past. The GOP is pressing their advantage while they have it and the consequences are massive. If the Democrats take control fo the Senate and the White House next year they will be similarly putting their boot on the throat of the Republican Party at every opportunity. We may not have asked for this state of affairs, but it’s what we have.