Trump Could Be Celebrating Too Soon

The U.S. president wants to take advantage of the dispute over who will succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to help his campaign, but will this issue really be that helpful for him?

The crocodile tears that Donald Trump and the Republicans shed over the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg have already dried up. They see the vacancy above all as a political gift and a big election opportunity,

However, it’s possible that Trump and his people are celebrating too soon. The issue could pose some risk and have unpredictable side effects for the president.

Basically, there are advantages for Trump. For example, there is the matter of the coronavirus pandemic. The political battle to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court will likely be a dominating issue for the coming days and weeks. Trump can hope that his mismanagement of the crisis will at least move out of focus for a while.

In regard to this, one must understand why there is such a fuss being made over filling Ginsburg’s place. Far more than the Federal Constitutional Court in Germany, the U.S. Supreme Court, America’s highest court, plays a key political role in the United States. In the intensely polarized two-party system, there are hardly any opportunities for compromise; major issues often end up before the court, which acts as arbitrator.

Ginsburg was considered part of the court’s left camp. If Trump and his Republicans now fill another associate justice seat for life with a nominee to their taste, conservatives could possibly hold a clear 6-3 majority for many years. One could say that the arbitrator is leaning to their side.

An Advantage for Trump with Women

The president picks the nominee, but it is still not certain when the vote will take place. That is, it is not certain whether it will occur before or after Election Day. Both options would probably be possible; the Republicans have majority control of the Senate until a new Senate and a new president are sworn in this January.

Either way, the dispute over the vacancy could help Trump mobilize his base. Even Republican voters who are on the fence now have one more reason to go to the polls and fill in their ballot for Trump.

Even if they don’t like the president, the prospect of controlling the Supreme Court is a tempting prospect for conservatives. The court could decide important issues like abortion or gun control permanently in the Republicans’ interest.

There’s another advantage for Trump. He could use the nomination to attract more voter groups beyond his loyal base; for example, moderate women. Trump’s announcement that he would probably nominate a woman is likely intended to improve his standing with this part of the electorate. Trump has had problems for months with ratings in this area. Suddenly, the macho man in the White House could appear to support women.

Trump could announce his decision as soon as this week. Several top conservative female jurists are on the short list, including Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa. The latter has Cuban family roots, which could add to her appeal. In this election, the president is fighting to secure states like Florida and Nevada that have a high proportion of voters who come from Central and South America. If he were to nominate Lagoa, he could possibly also score in those areas.*

A Number of Problems and Risks

So far so good for Trump, but things can still go wrong for him. Republicans are hoping to mobilize their base, but of course it works in both directions. The typical American culture war between the left and right that is now erupting around the open seat helps Joe Biden and the Democrats drive their voters to the ballot boxes, too.

In particular, supporters of the leftist, progressive wing of the party who might have had problems with the moderate Biden to date now have another reason to go to the polls. If they want to prevent a complete takeover of the country’s most important institutions by conservatives, there is no other option than to vote for Biden and the Democrats on Nov. 3.

This applies all the more in the event that Trump and the Republicans force their nominee through before the election. It would then make sense for a many voters to place the office of the president and/or Congress in the hands of the Democrats as a political counterweight to a Supreme Court controlled by conservatives. In the past, America’s voters have already shown a sense for balancing political weights in the country to some extent.

Like Trump, Biden will also take advantage of this issue to pull voters to his side. His advisers are already planning to link central political issues to the court. They want to argue, for example, that a conservative Supreme Court could abolish important social services in the health care system that were introduced under President Barack Obama.

There’s another problem for Trump. It is not certain that he will keep his majority of 53-47 vote together for the nominee in the Senate. A good handful of rather moderate Republican senators like Susan Collins from Maine are up for reelection on Nov. 3. They must fear being punished by their voters if they help Trump control the Supreme Court. That is why they are already showing considerable restraint on this issue.

Furthermore, Biden and his people can count on the fact that, in the end, the battle for the Supreme Court does not have the outstanding significance in this election that Trump might be hoping for. The coronavirus is the dominating issue in the United States; the virus is overshadowing the lives of many millions of voters.

Some 200,000 people have already died and the number of victims will continue to rise all the way to Election Day. The question of Trump’s responsibility in the COVID-19 crisis will not just disappear overnight. Neither, by the way, will the problems that many Americans have in general with Trump’s character and his performance in office.

There is reason to believe that a large majority of voters had already decided who they intended to vote for before Ginsburg died. Also, Trump may have already completely exhausted his voter potential; his poll numbers have barely improved for months. The number of undecided voters is only in a single-digit percentage range according to polls.

Here is what this means: With or without the battle over the Supreme Court, the true nature of the election will likely not change. It is and will remain a referendum on Trump.

*Editor’s note: President Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett for Supreme Court justice on Sept. 26. The nomination must be confirmed by the Senate.

About this publication

About Michael Stehle 102 Articles
I am a graduate of the University of Maryland with a BA in Linguistics and Germanic Studies. I have a love for language and I find translation to be both an engaging activity as well as an important process for connecting the world.

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