The Senate GOP’s stated intent to deny President Obama the opportunity to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created when Justice Antonin Scalia died has always been a thinly disguised power play. But it’s also always been an unpopular move, and to make life easier on senators facing reelection this year, the GOP conference has been at pains to insist the decision was rooted in high-minded principles and fake history.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell let that facade slip in Cleveland Tuesday night.
At the end of the day there’s no practical difference between “I believe the next president should fill this vacancy,” and “Obama won’t fill this vacancy, Donald Trump will (if he’s elected).” But there are reasons McConnell hasn’t spent all year saying, “Obama won’t get to fill this seat because he sucks, Donald Trump will because he’s great.” The biggest one is that his swing-state members can’t be seen denying a qualified, moderate nominee a hearing so that a vulgarian—who degrades the Constitution every time he proposes a religious test for immigrants or undermines the judiciary with racist attacks on a federal judge—can nominate someone else. McConnell wanted to take a victory lap for beating Obama in this fight in front of a crowd that’s hostile to both of them, and motivate Republican unity, but its his own members who will suffer for it.