Republicans Forced to "Choose the Lesser Evil" Supreme Court Nominee
Now that Trump has become the presumptive Republican presidential nominee (flabbergasting as that may be), all focus is shifting to a Trump-versus-Clinton showdown. Almost every metric for predicting the results of the general election indicate that Hillary Clinton would win in a landslide. Even at the outset, states that are polling in Clinton's favor already secure her victory over Trump, garnering 30 more electoral votes than the 270 needed to win the Presidency. Polling also shows Clinton defeats Trump 47% to 40% in terms of overall popular votes.
These numbers loom like dark clouds over the heads of Republicans. In particular, down-ballot Republicans—those seeking election to lower offices—are faced with the dilemma of standing for a "unified" Republican Party while distancing themselves from their own party leader's bombastic statements about women and minorities. The vulnerability felt by many Republicans, although they'd deny such impending peril, may have positive repercussions for liberal causes.
Most notably, the Senate confirmation of President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, may seem more likely now that the future of the Republican Party is destabilized. Twenty-four Republican-held Senate seats are up for election in November. Depending on who you ask, control of the Senate is largely up for grabs. So, there are four possible outcomes:
- Trump Presidency with a Republican-controlled Senate;
- Trump Presidency with a Democrat-controlled Senate;
- Clinton Presidency with a Republican-controlled Senate; or
- Clinton Presidency with a Democrat-controlled Senate.
Because Hillary Clinton seems poised to crush Donald Trump in the general election, scenarios #1 and #2 can be set aside for now. As for scenarios #3 and #4, current Republican senators are fearful that a Clinton presidency would nominate an even more liberal candidate than the current, middle-of-the-road nominee Merrick Garland. Compound a Clinton presidency with a Democrat-controlled Senate (scenario #4) and Republicans shudder at the thought.
Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland, in the minds of Senate Republicans, may quickly become "not so bad an idea" when contrasted with the future prospects of a Clinton presidency. Even for a Trump presidency, Republicans are wary of what sort of nomination the unpredictable and "unprincipled" real estate mogul may make. "Obstructionist" Republicans—those that oppose any Obama nomination regardless of the nominee's merits—have found themselves between a rock and a hard place: they can either (1) maintain their refusal to entertain Merrick Garland's nomination and risk a more unfavorable selection by President Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, or (2) proceed towards confirming Merrick Garland's nomination and be accused of betraying their so-called principles.
Even though Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has chosen to go with the first option, continuing to refuse to hear Garland's nomination, it's a risky gamble that isn't sitting well with other conservatives. The Donald Trump candidacy has clearly splintered the Republican Party, giving Democrats the advantage in appointing a liberal-bent justice to the Supreme Court. Partisanship notwithstanding, Donald Trump's candidacy is likely to deepen the fissures that divide Americans—or perhaps invigorate a xenophobic, intolerant fervor that had been kept dormant by respectfulness and reason.