Who Likes the Nuclear Option?

As you contemplate Mitch McConnell’s exercise of the dreaded nuclear option, I want you to keep something in mind:

The 2012 Wisconsin gubernatorial election were recall elections to elect the governor and lieutenant governor of Wisconsin. It resulted in voters re-electing incumbent Republican Governor Scott Walker over the Democratic candidate Tom Barrett by a larger margin than he had in 2010, in which Walker had also faced Barrett.

This result in Scott Walker’s recall election was confusing and unexpected to a lot of people because it was pretty clear that Gov. Walker had inspired a passionate backlash against his policies. Why did he actually do better than he had against Tom Barrett the first time around?

The answer was that there were a lot of voters who disliked how Walker had governed, including many who had voted against him, who didn’t think it was appropriate to disregard the will of the voters and try to recall the governor in mid-term.

I suspect that we’ll find a similar segment of the public that may have supported Donald Trump and may generally approve of Neil Gorsuch, but who think it’s inappropriate to change the rules in midstream in order to get the political result that you want.

I know I have a little bit of this tendency in myself. In baseball, I hate inter-league play, don’t like having the home field advantage in the World Series determined by the outcome of the All-Star Game, and detest the new rule change that allows you to intentionally walk batters without throwing four pitches. Whether these changes are good or bad, I don’t like them because they’re changes. And when it comes to baseball, I don’t want changes.

I think a lot of people feel the same way about the filibuster. They may not fully understand it and they probably have occasion to hate it, but they don’t like the idea of just taking it away.

There are slices of the electorate that people rarely think about. I’d like to know what percentage of the people have never voted for an incumbent. They reliably show up and they vote to throw everybody out. They probably vote against every judge and every referendum, too. They exist to be contrarian. I know these people are out there because that’s how I voted in 1990 when I hadn’t bothered to do my research on the candidates and issues. I actually just voted (left-wing) third party because, even then, I knew I didn’t want to support the Republicans.

In any case, there are cases where people don’t vote or react the way you’d expect them to based on their ideological leanings. I know Franklin Roosevelt was probably surprised that so many of his supporters didn’t have his back when he sought to expand the Supreme Court.

People are more supportive of rules and norms than the logic or rationale that underpins them.

So, I don’t know what the polls will say about Trump ramming Neil Gorsuch’s nomination down our throats. I suspect some conservatives will give him higher marks for a few weeks. But I know there are others out there who are going to see it as cheating, or who will just be mad that the way nominations to the Supreme Court have always worked in this country is not how they will operate in the future.

In closing, I’ll just advance my reaction to McConnell going nuclear: since there is no further use for it, the Senate should be abolished and we should go to a unicameral Congress. It was bad enough that we made it so senators are directly elected, but now that we’ve taken away most of the minority party’s power (and set the predicate for taking away the rest), the Senate is basically an unrepresentative version of the House. Senators act just as scared of the public as Representatives. They raise money from the same sources. They show no more party independence. They barely show any higher degree of wisdom. We have no reason to have two bodies that are elected the same way, are answerable to the same pressures, and who are equally susceptible to the passions of the moment.

Next up: whichever party wins the House gets to select the president.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.