llustrations by Hannah Robinson
In boxing, a boxer who overreaches can usually expect to find himself on the canvas. The same tends to apply to politics.
Throughout the US presidential campaign so far, it has been Joe Biden most at risk of overreaching. To his credit, he has avoided topics including answering calls to defund the police, tried to avoid wading in on Americas ‘culture war’, or do anything that could be easily painted as ‘socialist’ by an opponent all the eager to do just that. Biden has been so good at it that in this week’s chaotic debate Trump said Biden had “lost the left”.
To be clear, this is no attack on calls for defunding the police or more redistributive policies; both Trump and Biden see this election as a Manichean struggle where all that matters is winning. I have long thought that the way for Biden to win is to reassure moderate voters in the ‘Blue Wall’ states. Biden, it seems, thinks the same- so remains effusive and evasive.
Now it is Trump who has overreached. The death of Supreme Court icon titan Ruth Bader Ginsburg presented him with a chance to get back into the election. Patti Waldmeir reckons the Supreme Court may not be the deciding factor for Midwestern voters. Nonetheless, little sharpens the mind of conservative leaning voters like the feeling that abortion and gay rights is on the ballot. The Supreme Court, not coronavirus or Trump’s tax returns, was the first topic covered at the first debate (or shouting match as it should have been labelled).
So how has Trump overreached? With a 6-3 conservative split on the court seemingly only a matter of time away, surely Trumpian triumphalism is somewhat justified? Well, yes and no. Yes, the court will probably stay in conservative hands for a generation. But in nominating Amy Coney Barrett, Trump has given Democrats a chance to take the Supreme Court off the ballot. There is absolutely nothing Democrats can do in the face of Republican hypocrisy over election-year Court nominees than can stop Barrett being appointed. So why not get the confirmation over with?
Hear me out. I’m not asking Democrat Senator to vote for her, or stop being outraged. Barring a small miracle, however, the court will be 6-3 conservative before inauguration. For Democrats, there are advantages in it being 6-3 before election. Think about it; if you were religious, anti-abortion and traditionally a Republican but undecided for this year, would you be more likely to vote Democrat knowing that the court was ‘safe’, or with Roe v Wade on the ballot? Would you not be more likely to vote for Biden knowing that, ultimately, he could do little to advance pro-choice? It is a horrible calculation for Democrats to have to make, and women’s rights, the right to love who you love and to feel safe in your own skin colour should not be political pawns. But if the court will swing anyway…
The flaw in this plan is that Trump’s most likely path to re-election is through a contested election decided by the court. Already, Republicans are calling for Barrett to be allowed to sit on election cases. But life tenure protects judges from making political decisions, and Chief Justice Roberts has shown both independence and his deep respect for the Supreme Court hinting that he would vote against Trump in an election case. It would take one of Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh to do the same. That’s all hypothetical. Right now Trump has overreached; let us hope for a knockout blow.