Let’s face it: the folks chanting “Fill that seat!” behind Trump at his rallies and across the nation are going to vote for him even if he doesn’t announce his Supreme Court nominee before the election. They want Trump to be re-elected, and they want that seat. Neither of those things is going to change between now and the election.
This blatant disregard for what should be a tremendous re-election advantage is dripping with hubris and is potentially catastrophically short-sighted for those who wish to see Trump remain in power.
Sure, they might be slightly disappointed if he doesn’t offer his nomination toward the end of this week as promised, but if they weren’t fed up with Trump inconsistencies up to this point, this isn’t going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Even if they wanted to hold it against him, they’d still have to support him at the polls or risk losing both the presidency and the seat. They’d still be faced with an “all or nothing” choice in which they find the “all” completely desirable.
So, those votes wouldn’t be going anywhere if he didn’t make the selection before the election. On the reciprocal side, there’s the entrenched opposition. They don’t want Trump re-elected, and they don’t want to lose the seat. There’s not much they can do about when the SCOTUS nomination is made, and they’re going to vote against Trump in the election either way. The timing of the SCOTUS nomination will have no real effect on how these two groups, in general, cast their POTUS election votes.
However, those aren’t the only two groups voting, and they shouldn’t be the only two groups considered by the Trump camp when deciding when to announce the SCOTUS nomination. No candidate has ever had, ever has, or will ever have the total support of either every conservative or every liberal. The spectrum is too broad; every stance on every issue sees some potential backers edged off the cliffs of support.
There is a sizable number of conservative voters who don’t necessarily support Trump as an individual, but who are currently interested in keeping him in office if that’s what it takes to protect conservative values. This group is much more interested in claiming the empty SCOTUS seat than in seeing Trump serve another term. If a conservative SCOTUS is nominated and confirmed prior to the election, they’ll have acquired their greatest prize without having to commit to another four years of Trump. Whether they actively vote against him or simply lack the inspiration to vote at all, those add up to lost votes for the Trump campaign.
By rushing a nomination and confirmation, the Trump camp also runs the risk of alienating a certain number of voters who would otherwise have been in their corner. It has been publicly reported that the nearly universally revered Ruth Bader Ginsburg requested that the nomination not be announced until after the election. Some previous Trump supporters may find acting against those wishes a distasteful act.
Then, of course, there is also the loudly ringing hypocrisy of Senators like Lindsey Graham, who explicitly claimed in 2016 that his own words could and should be used against him if the same situation were to arise in 2020. Even in our current age of selective hearing and obstinate disregard, that has to leave an unpleasant taste in the mouths of some conservatives and conservative moderates.
Essentially, Trump’s potential to lose existing re-election support by rushing the SCOTUS nomination and confirmation far outweighs the very meager potential to gain any support by completing it early. Dangling the carrot of the unfilled SCOTUS seat on the other side of the election virtually shackles both Trump-supporting and non-Trump-supporting conservatives to the success of his re-election. Completing the confirmation prior to the election, however, frees up those conservative who don’t care to see him re-elected and ignites the exodus of those who believe that rushing the process is in poor form.
Considering the pitched and close election battle, in which Trump appears to possibly be trailing, Trump and his steadfast supporters ought to be scrambling to keep all of their current horses corralled. This blatant disregard for what should be a tremendous re-election advantage is dripping with hubris and is potentially catastrophically short-sighted for those who wish to see Trump remain in power. It clearly demonstrates once and for all that Trump and his supporters are so obsessed with any immediate victory over Democrats and liberals that they cannot even be bothered to lend a forward-thinking eye to their own best interests.
In what could be a “have your cake and eat it too” scenario, the Trump camp may be rendering the cake inedible in their reckless and hurried attempt to obtain it. So many more elements will capture our attention between now and November 3rd that, in the aftermath, we may never identify the timing of the confirmation of a conservative SCOTUS as a significant factor influencing a swing in votes. Looking forward, though, toward a race in which the slightest advantages can mean so much, I cannot help but believe that confirming a SCOTUS prior to the election is a tremendous strategic miscalculation.