There were a lot of reasons that Democrats were playing on an uneven playing field from the moment that Hillary Clinton won the Democrat primary. After all, their candidate was a scandal-prone Washington insider with ties to big banks at a time when voters were demanding something new, something revolutionary.
But the Supreme Court pick was the ace in Republicans pocket. The GOP figured out a long time ago that the courts, for better or worse, had evolved into a primary driver of policy change. The Congress still mattered, but a combination of activist judges who were willing to re-write legislation under the guise of “intent” and a legislature that seemed all too willing to leave the details to bureaucrats, led to the gradual erosion of its position.
Republicans went on the offensive in an effort to restore the delicately weighted system of checks and balances envisioned by the Founders. Democrats, on the other hand, were—and still are—asleep at the wheel. As James Hohmann writes for The Washington Post:
While Obama was playing checkers, McConnell was playing chess. Liberal groups couldn’t get their followers ginned up for someone as bland as Garland. Conservative groups – which tend to be more strategic and better financed than their counterparts – mobilized more effectively. In stark contrast to the Republican convention, where SCOTUS was a buzzword, no Democrat mentioned Garland during the Democratic National Convention.
The growing importance of the Supreme Court was one reason why so many conservatives, especially evangelicals, were willing to set aside their questions about Donald Trump and pull the lever in his favor come Election Day. Former Speaker of the House John Boehner said it best.
“In my view, the election is pretty simple,” Mr. Boehner said in October of last year. “The legislative process, the political process, is at a standstill and will be regardless of who wins. The only thing that really matters over the next four years or eight years is who is going to appoint the next Supreme Court nominees.”
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear to see that Boehner was right. Election Day exit polls showed that one in five voters (21 percent) identified the Supreme Court as “the most important factor” in determining which candidate they would vote for. Those voters overwhelmingly favored Trump, 57 percent to 40 percent, a reflection of Democrats’ blasé attitude towards the issue.
And boy did Trump deliver. As McKay Coppins writes for The Atlantic:
Indeed, it’s hard to imagine how Trump could have given the right a more crowd-pleasing nominee than Gorsuch—a reliably conservative, 49-year-old jurist with impeccable credentials and an originalist bent. In his most famous ruling on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, he voted in favor of Hobby Lobby, a family-owned chain of craft stores that argued the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate was a violation of their religious liberty. If all goes according to conservatives’ plans, Gorsuch could spend the next several decades on the bench extending Scalia’s legacy, and building one of his own.
Trump’s selection of Judge Gorsuch is more than just the fulfillment of a campaign promise to conservatives, it’s a selection that should let everyone know that Trump is serious about picking qualified, fair jurists. Gorsuch “has a sense of fairness and impartiality that is keystone of being a judge,” said on Democrats senator and former Obama Cabinet official put it.
Of course, that likely won’t be enough to stop Democrats from going on the offensive. As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell writes for the Washington Post:
It’s the far left hitting rewind on the Supreme Court attack eight-track they’ve been playing for more than 40 years. When Gerald Ford nominated John Paul Stevens, they attacked Stevens as anti-woman. When Ronald Reagan chose Anthony M. Kennedy, they said Kennedy was unqualified. When George H.W. Bush put forward David Souter, they declared Souter a threat to minorities. The attacks seem ridiculous today, but they’re an important reminder that no matter who a Republican president nominates, the far left will say the same things. If you think you’ve heard moldy oldies like “Extreme!,” “Scary Quotes!” and “Anti-[Fill in the blank]!” before — well, you have, and you’re about to hear a lot more of the left’s apocalyptic rhetoric, on repeat and remastered in full digital surround.
We’ll be ready for the recycled rhetoric. But we’d also be surprised if it wasn’t drowned out by the sighs of relief and excited cheers from conservatives who are thrilled they found their man.