Why Mitch McConnell Had To Show His Cards On SCOTUS Nomination

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Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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After Justice Scalia passed away on Saturday, a few observers were surprised to hear Senate Majority Leader [crscore]Mitch McConnell[/crscore] immediately and preemptively declare that any Obama nominees would be DOA.

As the Washington Examiner’s Byron York tweeted:

York has a point. In a perfect world, it might make sense for Republicans to at least feign a willingness to consider an Obama nomination — even if they secretly commit to blocking any appointment.

The problem is that the base doesn’t trust Republican leadership enough to allow them the latitude to make such sagacious strategic moves. 

Or, as The Atlantic’s Ron Fournier quipped,

To be fair, we are talking about a lame duck president making a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. It’s understandable to me why conservatives would want to use every means available to employ delay tactics. So I’ll frame it a bit more generously than Fournier: Imagine a football team that is so afraid its running back will fumble the ball that it won’t even allow the quarterback to fake a hand-off. Imagine a team that doesn’t trust its other players enough to allow them to ever employ deception.

This, of course, is nothing new. In fact, Republican leadership has been plagued by this for years now. Here’s just one example, which comes from a 2013 Jonathan Chait story:

A few months ago, Eric Cantor was ready to bring his latest brainchild, the “Helping Sick Americans Now” bill, to the House floor. The move was pure Cantor — a smarmy, ultrapartisan ploy. The bill proposed to eliminate funds the Obama administration needs to set up and run the health-care exchanges that are the central mechanism in the health-care law, but then Cantor’s bill would use those funds to help a handful of sick people get health insurance. There was no chance this, or anything like it, would be signed into law, as Obama obviously would not agree to tear down a program to insure millions of Americans in return for insuring a tiny fraction of that number. It was a message vote whose purpose was “embarrassing Obamacare,” as one conservative activist gloated, by forcing Obama to deny immediate aide for the uninsured. As a soulless exercise in disingenuous spin, it was well conceived.

It failed, however, because a crucial faction of ultraconservative House Republicans threatened to vote against it.

Here you had Eric Cantor using legislative maneuvers to play games. It’s easy for us to look down our noses at this type of gamesmanship. But the interesting thing is that the people who should like it —conservatives ostensibly willing to do whatever it takes to outmaneuver Obama — were the ones to cry foul. Cantor, according to Chait, at least, was attempting to use deceit to make Obama look bad and score some political points. But his own “side” wouldn’t let him. 

Whether you want to blame a paranoid base — or a faithless and perfidious GOP establishment — one thing is obvious: If your side is perpetually required to telegraph every play before the run it, you don’t stand a very good chance of winning many public opinion battles.

And so, they lose.