The Democrats Need to Think Ahead
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
With the White House scheduled to announce its Supreme Court nominee to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on Monday, it is past time for the Democrats to be prepared with a strategy to address any Trump nominee. While the briefing books on all the likely candidates undoubtedly are in place, this is the moment where the Senate Democrats need to demonstrate how to defeat an opponent in confirmation fight; or, as is more likely, how to come out unbloodied in defeat. Specifically, the political mistakes that were made in the 2016 Presidential election must be avoided, especially with mid-term elections looming.
Whether the Democrats succeed in blocking the Trump Supreme Court nominee or not, they must not continue to alienate blue collar, working, and middle class voters who continue to support Trump. To win control of at least one House of Congress in November, the Democrats must fight the Court nominee without conceding all the Trump voters from the political right to the Republicans. The Democrats cannot appear to be attacking the nominee exclusively on the legal matters of the social agenda. Issues such as abortion, prayer, church-state, immigration, etc. will undoubtedly be addressed. The Democrats rather need to focus on healthcare, taxes, tariffs, and the environment. If this strategy proves successful in moving independents and tentative Trump supporters, it could be an effective test for how the Party must run in the fall.
The liberal wing of the Democratic Party has a legitimate case to support a more frontal attack on an extremely conservative Court nominee. That strategy, however, may well be self-defeating. Their more populous supporters might be disappointed by a less aggressive strategy. Yet, it might be sufficient to bring along one or more of the Democrats who have extremely difficult re-election races; such as Senators Joe Manchin in West Virginia or Joe Donnelly in Indiana. This could be especially effective among certain elements of Trump supporters in West Virginia, Indiana, or even in North Dakota, where Democrat Senator Heidi Heitkamp is running scared as well.
At the end of the day the Dems need to broaden their support in November. This Supreme Court nomination fight is a major battle from which they need to emerge with a positive image. This strategy could enable waffling GOP Senators like Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski to address the nominee’s position on “choice” and other social issues, without forcing the Democrats to make the fight for them. Finally, some of the Republican Senators who are not seeking re-election such as Jeff Flake, Bob Coker, as well John McCain, might opt to join in opposition.