Over the next couple of weeks we’re all going to spend time trying to guess who President Obama will nominate to the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. There will also be a lot of ink spilled on strategies that he might employ against the already announced obstruction to his nominee.
After having studied this President for about eight years now, I’ll wade in and tell you who I think he will nominate: the person he identifies as best qualified to serve a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. You’ll likely respond with a “duh,” that doesn’t tell us much. But my point is that Obama’s pragmatism will come to the fore – as not only his natural tendency when it comes to governing – but as a strategy.
Here’s how that works. At this point the Republicans have already telegraphed their approach. They are going to scream bloody hell, no matter who the nominee is. By nominating someone who has an impeccable record and is obviously qualified to serve, the President ensures that they have to resort to extremist positions and arguments to justify their opposition. This sets up a win/win for Democrats. Either Republicans vote to confirm the nominee (unlikely) or they demonstrate to voters who aren’t members of the Republican base that they are unreasonable extremists.
Not only does such a spectacle hurt the eventual Republican presidential nominee in a general election, but as David Atkins wrote over the weekend, it is damaging to Republican Senators who are up for re-election in blue/swing states. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R- NH), who is facing a serious challenge from Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, might have just sealed her fate.
New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican from a state that supported President Obama, announced on Sunday evening that she opposes confirmation of a new Supreme Court nominee before the election.
Likewise, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who is already trailing Russ Feingold in the polls, has made a similar announcement. Perhaps he’s calculated that he has nothing to lose in a state that voted for Tammy Baldwin during the last presidential election.
What we’re seeing with these two Senators is that whether they are part of the “establishment” (Ayotte) or tea party types (Johnson), they are ready to join the extremist insurgency in attempting to de-litigimize the Constitutional obligations of our current President. This will only get worse when he nominates a pragmatic choice for the Supreme Court. They’ll have no where to go but to the further reaches of extremism. That is the “Obama method” that I’ve sometimes referred to as conciliatory rhetoric as a ruthless strategy. We’ll have the opportunity to watch it play out once again over the next few months.
Update: Michael Tomasky illustrates how this kind of thing plays out with a potential nominee.