By now you’ve all heard about the big September surprise in the 2020 race: the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, bastion of the Supreme Court’s liberal wing.
I suppose a pandemic, a racial reckoning and an unstable economy weren’t enough. What this election really needed was more … I don’t know … drama.
I’d like the check, please.
Unfortunately, none of us can leave this dinner party early. An open Supreme Court seat reshuffles the election, introducing more partisan conflict into an already heated race.
One thing to remember when you think about the court and the election is this: Americans are already voting.
This fight is happening in real time, making the presidential election and key Senate races even more of a high-wire act.
So far, the battle has focused on whether Republicans should push a confirmation through before Election Day. But the debate over the court is certain to wrap in all kinds of other issues — including some that the candidates had hoped to avoid, like abortion, where the stakes are sky high. (My colleague Elizabeth Dias and I have a whole story on this today.)
It’s too early to get a good sense from polling of how voters are viewing the confirmation process. But we do have some clarity into the political bets being places by both parties.
For Republicans, anything that shifts attention away from President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic is a good thing, given the low marks voters have given his response. An open Supreme Court seat is even better because it reminds Republican voters, including those who may not like Mr. Trump’s chaotic style, of one of the reasons they support the president — he has delivered on their decades-long project to remake the federal judiciary. (At his rally this weekend, supporters debuted a new chant: “Fill that seat!”)
But this issue is hardly a slam dunk for the G.OP. First, there’s that tiny, little problem of Republican senators’ statements from when they refused to confirm Judge Merrick B. Garland, President Barack Obama’s last Supreme Court pick, because it was an election year.
Statements like this one, by Senator Lindsey Graham, who is running for re-election this year.
“I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.”
Generally speaking, voters don’t like hypocrites. Now that Mr. Graham is pushing to confirm a nominee before the election, Democrats are already taking him up on his request, protesting outside his home and promoting video of his 2016 statement.
Democrats have their own base wound up about the court, too. Traditionally, Supreme Court vacancies have energized Republican voters more, particularly social conservatives. There have been some indications that the balance could be shifting in the Trump era. Democrats shattered donation records in the hours after Justice Ginsburg’s death. Their strategists argue that voters want a return to normal procedure after the norm-busting years of the Trump administration and will punish Republicans for breaking their 2016 standard.
This vacancy, in particular, plays to one of the Democrats’ strongest voting blocks: female voters, many of whom who saw Justice Ginsburg as an icon, snatching up jewelry shaped like her famous collar and even getting tattoos of her face.
That’s a big part of why Mr. Trump is proceeding fairly carefully, waiting until the end of this week to announce his pick and promising to choose a woman. The president and his aides know they must walk a delicate line between mobilizing their base of evangelical and Catholic voters with red meat about ending abortion and protecting religious freedom, and alienating more moderate suburban women who are already defecting to Joe Biden.
So, what to watch next?
The key number is 50. That’s the number of Senate votes that Republicans need to push through a nominee, and it’s looking increasingly likely that they’ll hit that mark. Of the 53 Republican senators, only two — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — have said they oppose efforts to fill the seat before the next president is elected. And just minutes ago, two of the other senators we were watching — Cory Gardner of Colorado and Chuck Grassley of Iowa — said they would support proceeding with a nominee.
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Minnesota’s governor calls his shot: Biden by 7 or 8 points
My colleague Reid Epstein spoke with Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota on Friday, the first day of early voting there, and a day when both Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden paid a visit to the state. Mr. Walz talked about voting, the race in Minnesota and what to expect on election night. (As usual, this interview has been edited and condensed.)
How’s the first day of early voting going in Minnesota?
GOVERNOR WALZ It’s going well. We’re set up. Our secretary of state, they’ve done this well. As you know, we pride ourselves on the highest voter turnout in all elections. And I think we’re ready. We’ve made the case that vote by mail, it’s safe; it’s secure. But we’re going to make sure if you need to vote in person, you can do that, too.
We know how to do absentee voting here. We’ve done it a lot. I did it in the primary in August. And, as I said, I’ve done it once before in my life, when I was deployed overseas with the Army. And it works. So I feel good about it. It feels like there’s a sense of calm around it. To be honest, the pushbacks against it have not — the secretary of state is indicating that requests for ballots are out the roof, 400 percent increase.
Some of the recent polling has shown Mr. Biden leading in the high single digits or double digits in Minnesota. Do you believe that’s where the race is at, or do you think it’s closer than some of the polling suggests?
I think it’s probably a little closer. If I had to pick, I bet it ends up seven or eight points.
Senator [Tina] Smith and myself win by 11 or 12, respectively. Senator [Amy] Klobuchar was a bit of an anomaly. She wins by 20. Keith Ellison won, and they threw everything at him for attorney general. He wins by five or six.
So yeah, I think it’s probable. There’s a lot of energy. Seven, eight points, it should be.
Minnesota is a state that always has high turnout and has a history of making mail voting accessible. Do you expect to have a winner called in Minnesota on election night?
Boy, that’s a good question. I think potentially you will, because the way it looks and the way I’m working my butt off to make it happen, is that the spread is broad enough that the uncounted absentees will not make a huge difference. But I do think it’s possible [that Minnesota will not have a winner that night]. We’ve been preparing people for that.
I know the national narrative around that is that it’s likely that the president could be close or leading on election night and then lose [when absentee ballots are counted]. I think in states who’ve done a lot [of mail voting], like California, it’s not unusual to see people leading and then get crushed by the time it’s done. But I’m hopeful that because of the spread that we’ll get a result.
Want to listen to a good read?
The Internet Research Agency, based in St. Petersburg, Russia, industrialized the art of trolling. It flooded the Russian internet with pro-Kremlin propaganda and wreaked havoc on American communities.
On this week’s “The Sunday Read,” Adrian Chen shares his prescient reporting from 2015 on the shadowy organization — and the story of how he eventually became a victim of Russian misinformation himself.
A Senate candidate is comparing herself favorably to Attila the Hun. What could be more #2020?
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