If a fight is inevitable…

IF A FIGHT IS INEVITABLE…. If the wake of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens’ retirement announcement, the various players are, not surprisingly, already positioning themselves for a nomination fight. We’ve seen a few Republican senators, with varying degrees of subtlety, speculate about their willingness to filibuster a nominee that hasn’t even been chosen.

Much of the speculation, then, is over whether President Obama wants to “pick a fight,” selecting a solid progressive (a “bold” choice), or a more easy-to-confirm moderate (a “safe” choice).

I don’t necessarily have a favorite or an outside-the-box recommendation — if Obama can find a jurist with John Paul Stevens’ temperament, intellect, and values, but 50 years younger, that’d work for me just fine — but it’s worth appreciating the fact that it’s not entirely up to the president to “pick a fight” or not. Ezra Klein had a good item on this late yesterday.

President Obama could nominate the guy on the Quaker Oats box and Glenn Beck would find a way to connect him to Trotsky on his blackboard (“you know who else liked oatmeal!?” ). Moreover, the GOP will enthusiastically help him on that one. Midterm elections are about base mobilization, and nothing is better for base mobilization than an asymmetric Supreme Court fight in which, say, evangelicals are furious about the nominee and liberals are skeptical (which you’re already seeing in the early reaction against Elena Kagan).

So there’s a case that the Obama administration should pick someone who Democrats will really like and who the public is likely to eventually support…. [T]he conventional wisdom that Obama should avoid a fight here might be wrong. He’s likely to get one whether he likes it or not, and the question is more whether it’ll be a fight that his supporters want to be part of.

Agreed. National Review went so far yesterday as to call on Republicans to resist the eventual nominee, no matter who’s selected. And while the “fight” over Sotomayor was mild in retrospect, it came fairly early in the president’s first year — Republicans have managed to become less reasonable and more reckless since. In an election year, their irresponsible tendencies are likely to be that much more intense.

I don’t doubt that the White House is aware of this, but it needs to be underscored anyway: there’s practically no way for Obama to get a qualified, center-left jurist through the Senate without intense far-right opposition. Considering the short list based on who’ll face the least contentious confirmation process is a fool’s errand.