Republican lawmakers too far gone to back down now
Republican lawmakers must ask themselves this question at the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, whenever that is. Perhaps then they will finally inventory every misdeed they ignored or encouraged, every scar they seared into our republic and its institutions, in pursuit of their holy grail: another Supreme Court seat.
Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski have said they oppose a vote on a Supreme Court nominee so close to the election. This principle, of course, was widely endorsed by Republicans four years ago, when the GOP-controlled Senate refused to even hold hearings for the nominee President Barack Obama had put forward in March.
Pundits ask whether other senators might suddenly grow a conscience and keep to this principle. But that’s the wrong way to think about how most Republicans will make this decision.
The prospect of another Supreme Court appointment was precisely how Republican senators assuaged their consciences these past four years. Judges (and tax cuts) were not merely the justification but their ultimate reward for accepting so much bad behavior from this administration.
The lure of packing the bench with conservative justices is presumably why Republican officials abandoned their putative commitments to limited government and free markets. It’s why they tossed aside free trade, fiscal responsibility and not weaponizing government might to reward friends and punish perceived enemies.
It’s how the “Party of Lincoln” excused overt bigotry against Muslims; against U.S.born congresswomen of color; against immigrants from certain countries; against ethnic minorities who don’t share Trump supporters’ “good genes.” It’s how they brushed off his birtherism and retweets of white supremacists.
It’s how so-called constitutional conservatives ignored his attacks on the First Amendment; the gassing of peaceful protesters for a photo opportunity; his threats to “revoke” licenses of media organizations whose coverage he dislikes.
It’s how a legislature that once abhorred presidential tyranny has accepted its own constitutional castration. GOP lawmakers willingly submitted when Trump confiscated their powers of the purse; their power to regulate commerce with foreign nations; their duty to advise and consent on major appointments to the executive branch, now riddled with “acting” officials.
It’s how these stewards of taxpayer dollars turned a blind eye to the ways Trump and his cronies have directed Treasury funds into their own pockets. It’s how a party that once prioritized the export of American democratic values came to excuse extorting foreign leaders into doing personal favors for Trump. It’s how they accept a president who kowtows to authoritarians.
Even when it looked like the clock had almost run out on their tacit trade — American democracy, swapped for tax cuts and judges — GOP lawmakers kept their eyes on the prize.
Republican senators decided not to fixate on Trump’s mishandling of our public health and economic crises nor even to ask what they might do to help. Instead they have remained laser-focused on their precious bench. In the past month, nearly every Senate roll-call vote has related to a judicial appointment; not one addressed mounting hunger, school closures, financial desperation or American deaths.
Now GOP senators see the opportunity to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a champion of women’s rights, with someone whose views on the subject fall somewhere between the 18th and 19th centuries.
Today Republicans tell themselves, and their constituents, that the trade-off has been worth it. Tomorrow, the accounting may look different.