With the resignation of Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Donald Trump is on the verge of becoming the most powerful Republican president in history. Kennedy’s decision amounts to rocket fuel for the November midterm elections for the GOP and will bond it to Trump. Trump can achieve the party’s decades-long dream of overturning legal abortion, not to mention ending gay marriage and affirmative action. CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin predicts that within the next eighteen months, twenty states will outlaw abortion.
It is an irony of history that Trump, a lifelong libertine, will become the president who restores the traditional moral values that the GOP has so passionately preached. But whomever Trump picks—perhaps a female conservative—will surely move rapidly to overturn the key decisions that Kennedy, often a decisive swing vote, supported on abortion and gay rights. The cultural war that the right has waged against the left since the 1960s is now at a hinge point. Democrats such as Joe Manchin from West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota will come under enormous pressure to support Trump’s nomination, while desperate liberals are already looking to Senators such as Lisa Murkowski or Susan Collins to hold out against a judicial ultramontanist.
Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell says that he wants to schedule hearings for this fall—before the midterm elections. Democrats are crying foul. They say that McConnell’s refusal to hold hearings for Merrick Garland during President Obama’s second term means that the same principle should obtain today—no hearings during an election year. “We’re now four months away from an election to determine the party that will control the Senate,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein. “There should be no consideration of a Supreme Court nominee until the American people have a chance to weigh in. Leader McConnell set that standard in 2016 when he denied Judge Garland a hearing for nearly a year, and the Senate should follow the McConnell Standard.” Good luck with that. “There’s no presidential election this year,” McConnell noted.
The GOP will ram through any nominee, confident that a successful conservative pick will boost its electoral chances in both 2018 and 2020. Republicans can confirm any new nominee by themselves. “The goal will be to get a conservative confirmed before the election,” Senator John Barrasso said. “I’m delighted to see President Trump have another opportunity to appoint another Supreme Court justice. And I’m sure he’s going to appoint somebody just like Antonin Scalia and Neil Gorsuch.” A young justice, which is what Trump will likely pick, could serve for three decades or more.
This isn’t a Dunkirk moment for the left; it’s Waterloo.