Could a Supreme Court fight save Trump?

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There's something very appropriate about Donald Trump's latest idea for saving his campaign: a fight over a Supreme Court nominee. Apparently the president is eager to have one.

Of course, unless Trump knows something we don't know, there's one big obstacle to having such a fight, which is that there isn't actually a vacancy at the moment. It's certainly possible that Justice Clarence Thomas could resign; given that he's 72 now, it would probably be the safe strategic move if he wants to ensure that he's replaced by a Republican nomination, even though it's unlikely that a Trump pick would be a close match for Thomas's specific ideas and he doesn't appear to be slowing down at all. 

Beyond that, however, it's extremely unlikely that a court fight would do Trump any good.

For one thing, the strategy has a few logical gaps. The idea is that another confirmation battle would fire up Republicans. But to do so, it would have to actually be a fight. That means Trump would need to pick someone controversial. If he nominates a mainstream conservative who immediately wins the support of moderate Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski — and perhaps even a few Democrats — then the fight will quickly fizzle and won't generate much added enthusiasm.

Instead, for the story to actually work, Trump would need to pick someone who draws heavy fire from Democrats while keeping moderate senators on the fence. Striking this balance will be even harder at the moment given that many conservatives are upset with the court's recent decisions. They likely wouldn't think that this (hypothetical) nomination is a good one unless liberals are really, really upset about it. In fact, they probably won't be satisfied unless Collins and Murkowski (and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin) join the opposition. Conservatives, especially social conservatives, wouldn't be looking for a nominee who could command a broad range of support; they'd be looking for the most loyal justice possible.

This isn't all that different from how Greg Sargent sees Trump's attempts to energize "hard-core supporters by telling them they're the victims in a race war while retreating just enough from this suggestion to avoid further alienating the white voters he's already driven away and badly needs back." It's the same problem: Trump's strongest supporters — the most dedicated Republicans — are only going to get truly excited by things that alienate everyone else. 

Trump's Supreme Court idea is a great one for Fox News, and anyone else who can profit from the fanatical devotion of a relatively small share of the electorate. It's a terrible idea for a president trying to get re-elected. Not to mention that such a gambit, if Trump gets to play it, is almost certainly one that vulnerable Republican senators in contested states would not welcome; the last thing they want is to nationalize their elections even further and have to decide between alienating the strongest Republicans or more moderate voters. Those senators would probably prefer to demonstrate that they can give their states all kinds of goodies from the federal government. Which is, in fact, what Trump should be trying to demonstrate to the entire electorate, instead of dreaming up new ways to win ever-more-intense support from the group that's already with him. 

At least, that is, if Trump's goal at this point is to win a second term and not just to leave the White House with a list of partisans ready to give him money in the future. 

1. Chris Warshaw on bias in absentee-voter laws.

2. Asfandyar Mir at the Monkey Cage on the Trump administration's response to the Russian bounty story.

3. Dan Drezner on Trump and the Republicans. I think he overstates what Trump's influence over the party has been, although I agree that it's changing and not in Trump's favor. Also, the statistic Trump touts about how well his endorsed candidates do is not, you will be surprised to learn, accurate. 

4. Melanie Mason on the real news about former Vice President Joe Biden's list of potential running mates: how many well-qualified women, including Black women, are on it.

5. Griffin Connolly on the veepstakes.

6. Josh Kraushaar on the remaining Senate primaries to watch.

7. Scott Monje on Trump and the pandemic.

8. And: Want to do something patriotic? Sign up to be a poll worker on Election Day. There's a major nationwide shortage thanks to the pandemic, and for the in-person portion of the election to go smoothly, there's a real need for civic-minded people to step up. Rick Hasen has information for law students who want to help. (Also? Give blood.)

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