Saturday, September 19, 2020

Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming

What did Donald Trump do today?

He had a change of heart about Supreme Court policy.

Trump was one of the last Americans to find out about the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last night, as the news broke while he was speaking at a campaign rally. Afterwards, in front of reporters, he made polite remarks, which was a notable change from his usual rhetoric about her. While on the campaign trail in 2016, he called Ginsburg "incompetent" and unethical, said that her "mind is shot," demanded her resignation, and threatened to drown her out with "real judges." The reason for the tantrum was that Trump, who reacts badly to criticism and much worse when it's coming from a woman, was outraged that Ginsburg had said he had an "ego" and that he should have released his tax returns.

Today, he promised to replace her, and specifically with an as-yet-unchosen woman—something he said was "insulting" to men when Joe Biden committed in advance to picking a woman as his running mate. 

Candidate Trump, of course, supported Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's holding the late Justice Scalia's seat open until after President Obama left office. Scalia died nine months before Election Day 2016. Ginsburg's death comes only 46 days before the next presidential election, and indeed after voting has already begun in eight states.

To be clear, Trump is legally entitled to nominate a Supreme Court justice, and if the Senate voted on and confirmed it—which is far from certain at the moment—that appointment would be valid. Trump tried to justify his decision in a tweet, claiming that he and the Republican majority in the Senate had been "put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices."

Of course, both Trump and the Republican caucus in the Senate were both elected by a minority of Americans. And a snap poll shows that Americans support keeping Ginsburg's seat open until after the election by a considerable margin.

There would be political upsides for Trump delaying the nomination. Not forcing vulnerable Republican senators to take a stand pay off in the half dozen close races that could cost the GOP its majority. It would also play well with independent and undecided voters, and give Trump a chance to play against type by passing up a chance to seize power for short-term gain. But Trump's strategy since falling down in the polls by double-digit margins earlier this summer has been to try to delegitimize the election entirely, which reads as an admission that he doesn't think he'll win.

Why should I care?

  • Presidents don't have to govern by opinion poll, but they don't get to claim they're doing the people's will when they don't.
  • Presidents are elected to make decisions on behalf of all Americans and democracy itself, not just the people who voted for them.