McConnell v. Reality

Mitch McConnell is quite the weaver of yarns. For two years, half of Republicans stared aghast at Donald Trump. But Mitch McConnell kept them on the right side of the line with a story. Merrick Garland festered in a procedural swamp of McConnell’s design. As Trump’s support sputtered, pundits began to get the message.

Wayne Gruden:

“The nation would no longer be ruled by the people and their elected representatives, but by unelected, unaccountable, activist judges who would dictate from the bench about whatever they were pleased to decree.”

Ted Cruz:

“We are only one justice away from losing our most basic rights, and the next president will appoint as many as four new justices,”

Trump himself (speaking in the third person per usual):

"If you really like Donald Trump, that's great, but if you don't, you have to vote for me anyway. You know why? Supreme Court judges, Supreme Court judges. Have no choice, sorry, sorry, sorry. You have no choice.”

Hugh Hewitt:

“Conservatism is done.”

Mitch McConnell is a storyteller who manufactured a crisis. Conservative media obliged with hysteria. Republican voters fell hard. But on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled on a high profile case.

Masterpiece Bakeshop took their “most basic rights” to the Supreme Court and won. They did not walk away with the 5-4 decision that would indicate a liberal horde, one vote from goring them right in the free exercise of religion. They walked away with the votes of both Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer. Never mind Anthony Kennedy. Forget the justice that wasn’t.

I once asked a friend of mine – a lawyer and quite conservative – if liberal justices were actually less interesting than conservative justices or simply in the majority, more likely to swing a controversial case, and thus, more incessantly analyzed.

“A little bit of both.”

I’m not exactly a court watcher. I require good reporting to illuminate most decisions. But I do know that most cases are remarkably lopsided. Relatively speaking, only a few are real splits. Only about one in every five cases are decided by one vote. About twice that many are unanimous.

Even those justices that are more predictably partisan are titanic minds prone to restraint and ideological curveballs. John Roberts with the Obamacare assist. How soon we forget. But the threat of a judicial stake to the heart of conservatism and a left hand clenching on the throat of individual liberty brought countless conservatives to a man they (rightly) found to be loathsome.

We obsess over the prospect of foreign interference and domestic collusion for good reason. But when an election is decided by the smallest of margins, the most extraordinary factor is not necessarily the only one that might decide it. Without a vacancy would Clinton be in office, FBI quietly investigating an obscure Ukrainian lobbyist whose name we barely remember from two summers ago?

McConnell’s disdain for norms is extraordinary. Conservative media hysterical. Fox News adept at rationalizing the former and amplifying the latter.

Stephen Breyer’s age in two years:  81

Anthony Kennedy’s age in two years:  83

Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s age in two years:  87

Republicans flocked to the polls to save the world from a court that was largely fantasy. They will again in two years. I’m not sure what the solution is, except to vote with the same urgency