Going Nuclear, and Why Not?

At this point it seems certain the Republicans in the Senate are going to employ the “nuclear option.” That’s not nearly so bad as it sounds, as it doesn’t involve any literal mass destruction or lingering radiation, but it’s nonetheless a sorry state of affairs for everybody.
If you’re not hip to the political lingo, the “nuclear option” means they’ll confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court with a mere majority rather than the 60 votes required to end a filibuster. The Republicans currently hold more than a majority of votes, with all of them ready to confirm Gorsuch, but the Democrats have more than the 40 votes need to sustain a filibuster, with all of them seemingly ready to keep it up until hell freezes over or whatever else might follow the administration of President Donald Trump, so it seems a natural outcome. All the Republicans used to consider the filibuster rule sacrosanct back when a Democratic president was making Supreme Court picks and they held a filibustering plurality in the Senate, and at that point all the Democrats considered it a silly and not even constitutionally-mandated rule that needed to be “nuked” on behalf of whatever Democratic nominee happened to be up for consideration, so as usual both parties are a bunch of hypocrites. There’s still something to be said for that old rule about a super-majority being needed for such weighty matters, even from an old-fashioned Republican’s traditionalist perspective, but but parties have brought us to such a sorry state of affairs that it such niceties are no longer sustainable.
The Democrats are understandably miffed that the Supreme Court seat in question became vacant during the administration of Democratic President Barack Obama, yet his nominee — whose name was either Merrick Garland or Garland Merrick, we keep forgetting — never even got a hearing from a Republican-controlled Senate, but there was plenty of historical precedent and a very persuasive case for the Republicans’ obstruction of a lame duck president’s appointment. Nothing against Garland or Merrick or whatever his name was, who struck us as yet another disastrous post-constitutional Democratic appointment but about as good as you could hope for from an Obama administration that knew it couldn’t press its luck by that point, but the Republicans did have historical precedent and a persuasive case as well unbearable pressure from every last Republican voter in the country including ourselves. The Republican establishment thus forwarded the pick to Trump, who had ironically run on the argument that the Republicans needed to burn down the establishment that rolled over for everything Obama wanted to, and he chose the impeccably constitutionalist Gorsuch, which relieved even such still-skeptical-of-Trump Republicans as ourselves and of course outraged the Democrats.
All the nasty hearings in the Senate’s committees and sub-committees and friendly press appearances haven’t come up with any compromising information about Gorsuch’s character, and his constitution-means-what-it-says judicial philosophy isn’t all that controversial and has usually wound up on the majority of his lower-circuit opinions, and from a Democratic perspective he’s about as good as you could hope for from any old Republican much less a Trump administration prone to pressing its luck, but these days there’s an extra amount of Democratic Party pressure being brought to bear against anything Trump. We’re not so crazy about Trump our own Republican selves, as regular readers are well aware, but this seems a political miscalculation. If Gorsuch is rejected by a Democratic minority under the old rules they once defended they’ll be obliged to reject the next candidate, and the next one after that, and so on for at least four years of an eight-member Supreme Court, and at some point the Democrats will start polling even worse than Trump on the issue. With Gorsuch replacing the late and great-to-us-Republicans Justice Antonin Scalia his confirmation won’t change any decisions, and the Democrats can hope for more favorable conditions when the next Democratic seat inevitably opens, so we figure their best bet is to cede a battle and save that filibuster rule for a moment in the future when it will surely come in handy, and in the meantime let Trump continue to hog all the headlines.
Over the long term the best bet for the Republicans might be to retain that old filibuster rule they once relied on, but at the moment it doesn’t make any sense at all. Employing a merely figurative “nuclear option” isn’t going get much notice, and anyone who is paying attention but hasn’t already chosen sides will probably conclude that the Democrats are just dead-set against Trump even if he turns out to be right about something. The next vacancy on the Supreme Court will probably be one of those post-constitutitionalist Democrats, which raises the stakes, but the betting death-pool odds have the Republicans still holding on to Senate Majorities and even the White House when that happens, and there’s a shot that the Republican establishment will still be around for that, and the Democrats aren’t going to be any bi-partisan mood soon, so now’s as good a time to go “nuclear” as any.
There’s still something to be said for gaining enough bi-partisan support for something as a Supreme Court Justice, and it pains our traditionalist Republican souls to let it pass, but these are partisan times and any establishment has gotta do what its gotta do. We just hope there’s enough establishment left when the next seat comes up that there will be another Gorsuch.

— Bud Norman

Kansas Lurks Back to Normalcy

The Kansas economy has lately been swelled by the expense accounts of big city newspaper reporters, as much of the national media have rushed to our usually overlooked state to cover its Senate race. There’s no wondering why there’s a national interest in the story, as it could wind up determining which party controls the Senate, and it provides some reason for the reporters to hope that it will  be the Democrats who somehow prevail, and it is a most intriguing tale. The latest developments are more hopeful to the Republicans, however, and even the most partisan presses seem to have noticed.
Ordinarily even the reporters in Wichita and Topeka wouldn’t get out of their newsrooms to cover a Senate race in Kansas, which hasn’t sent anything other than a Republican to Washington since that one time everyone lost their minds early in the New Deal and Dust Bowl days, but this is not an ordinary year. Long-time incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts has been around a long enough time to have found disfavor with the Republican party’s anti-incumbent mood, and he barely survived a challenge to a little known and under-funded and underwhelming neophyte with a Facebook scandal only because a couple of crank candidates split the majority of the party’s throw-the-bums-out vote. Roberts then went into a three-way general election adorned with the out-of-touch and out-of-state label stuck upon him in the primary, hoping that another split of the anti-Roberts vote would save him, but the Democrats went to court insisting that they shouldn’t be compelled to run a candidate just because their party had gone to the expensive trouble of nominating one, and it was suddenly plausible that a well-heeled and largely self-financed independent candidate who was running on an appealing platform of common sense solutions and bipartisanship would win. That the most reliably Republican state in the Union over the past century and a half might allow the Democrats to retain control of the Senate was a tantalizing possibility, and thus the influx of national media to Kansas.
What they’ve found, however, is an impressive all-out effort by the Republicans that casts doubt on the upset storyline. Local newscasts have been saturated with advertisements for Roberts, almost all of which make the essential point that a Republican loss could allow the Democrats to retain control of the Senate, complete with scary pictures of the wildly unpopular President Barack Obama. There are also radio ads that combat the unfortunately true charge from the primary that Roberts hasn’t had a legitimate Kansas residence for years by touting his Kansas birth and Marine service and twangy-gravelly voice and weather-beaten visage and generally conservative voting record to remind voters that he’s still a Kansas kind of guy. Our internet browsing keeps popping up ads from the National Rifle Association touting Robert’s support for Second Amendment rights, the spots running on the local right-wing talk radio stations sound tailored to the concerns of those staunch conservatives who might be tempted to stay at home rather than for a man whose lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union is a mere 86 percent, and such anti-establishment heroes as former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin have taken to the hustings to shore up the base. With the Democrats successfully suing in court to avoid the ignominy of a third place finish the anti-Roberts vote won’t be split, but that and the annoying minority of Kansas’ liberals full-throated support for the indendepent have made it easier to portray him as the de facto Democrat in a state where the Democrats are begging to be left of the ballot.
Meanwhile, independent Greg Orman’s campaign has seemed unready for both Roberts’ sudden aggressiveness and the inevitable scrutiny that falls upon a frontrunner even when he’s front-running against a Republican. At first he tried to dodge the question of whether he would caucus with the Democrats and potentially retain their control of the Senate, then said he’d join whichever side held a clear majority on his inauguration day, and is now trying out the line that it doesn’t much matter which party controls the Senate. He’s also dodged such obvious questions as whether he’d vote to repeal Obamacare, telling a random curious citizen at a small town parade that it’s an “interesting question,” and has otherwise been vague about what he considers a common sense and bipartisan solution on such issues as gun control and the XL Keystone Pipeline. He can’t deny his past campaign contributions to Obama and Democratic Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid and other hated Democrats, or his past attempt to run for Senate as a Democrat, or the loud support he’s getting from that annoying minority of liberals, and in his rebuttal ads he’s been reduced to saying that Roberts’ criticism of the Obama agenda is “only half right” and that an equal portion of blame should be allotted to those who oppose that agenda. The argument is likely to fall flat with the vast majority of Kansas who express disapproval of Obama, even if it resonates with those confounded low-information voters who don’t stop to think about such claims,  and if Orman has some third way that both parties will follow toward a golden age, he doesn’t explain it in these 30-second spots.
There’s still plenty of time left for an October surprise, and if it comes it will be during a most peculiar election season, but we sense that Kansas is turning back to its traditional Republican form.

— Bud Norman