Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is playing a losing brand of poker in promising to filibuster Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Sen. Schumer knows he has a losing hand, he knows he’s all-in on his bluff, and he knows that to come away a winner Republicans are going to have to fold. The problem is that Schumer completely misplayed his hand.
Here are some successful tips for bluffing in poker, courtesy of poker website Gripsed, which Schumer would be wise to abide before he attempts to bluff his way into filibustering Gorsuch:
1. Recognize an option, not a necessity: “Bluffing is part of the game of poker and there are going to be times when it is profitable to employ the practice. Use it too often, however, and you’re going the way of the boy who cried wolf. You WILL get caught in the lie and you won’t be able to use it as leverage anymore. One of your most powerful weapons = gone.”
Senate Democrats have a long and sullied history of over-using procedural tricks to accomplish what they couldn’t through the traditional legislative process. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was notorious for filling the “amendment tree” in order to prevent Republicans from offering any ideas to change legislation. And now, having been relegated to the minority (in no small part because of their procedural obstruction) Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is promising to wield the filibuster early and often to stop President Trump from implementing his agenda. And while that strategy may make sense on wedge issues that could divide Republicans, it makes no sense on an appointee like Judge Gorsuch, whose resume and qualifications for the bench are unparalleled.
When Republicans call Sen. Schumer’s bluff—and undoubtedly they will—Democrats will not only lose any aura of power they have, they risk erasing a Senate tradition aimed at protecting the minority.
2. Timing is everything: “It is best to align bluffing in poker with visible weakness in your opponent(s). Look for short stacks and tight players; these players are less likely to call your bluff.”
By contrast, Republicans are in their strongest position in decades. Republicans control an all-time high 69 of 99 state legislative chambers, 33 governorships, and at the federal level have majorities in the House and Senate and control of the White House. Democrats are also facing an incredibly difficult election cycle in 2018, having to defend 25 seats, 10 of which are in states won by Trump. In short, Democrats aren’t exactly negotiating from a position of strength, so it seems foolish to expend an enormous amount of political capital against a candidate that strong pluralities of Americans support. That’s especially true for red-state Democrats who run the risk of being far to the left of their constituents, a situation that conservative groups are spending millions of dollars to highlight.
If Democrats are really going to filibuster a nominee, they would be wise to wait until they have a candidate deserving of that unprecedented action.
3. Know your opponents: “Chances are bluffing a loose player with a moderate stack won’t get you anywhere – and could in fact be detrimental to your longevity in the game.”
Republicans, as Liam Donovan writes for Politico, are the definition of a “loose player” right now:
The problem for Schumer and his caucus is this: Republicans are not bluffing when they say Gorsuch will be on the court one way or another. The squishes, the institutionalists, even the erstwhile “Gang” members are unwavering in their support. Gorsuch is well-qualified for the job, acquitted himself admirably by any measure, and if an unprecedented partisan filibuster is the only thing standing between him and the bench, the Reid Rule will be invoked for the second time.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that Gorsuch will be confirmed “no matter what” so Democrats must consider the long-term consequences of their obstruction. Do they really want the Senate rules to be inexorably changed over a well-liked and qualified candidate like Gorsuch, especially since this will likely not be the last opportunity for Trump to appoint a Supreme Court justice?
4. Build your cred: “Before you even think about bluffing in poker, you first have to prove your integrity. You have to play visibly strong and solid hands to prove to your opponents you’re serious.”
Democrats are starting out their strategy with the weakest possible hand, a politically unprecedented maneuver that they know they can’t win. In short, the Democrats’ attempt to filibuster Gorsuch is something that flies in the face of Senate tradition. As the Washington Post writes, “No Supreme Court nominee has ever been blocked by a single-party filibuster,” and the New York Times confirms, “There has never been a successful partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee.”
Democrats would be wise to back away from the political ledge, work over the next few months to build some credibility with voters (and the Republican majority), and wait for a more opportune time to play their hand.