Regarding the empty seat left by Antonin Scalia, I think Democrats should never lose sight of the crucial fact that most GOP priorities for a Supreme Court justice are deeply unpopular. Marco Rubio does an excellent impression of someone who wants to ban abortion for everything short the mother’s life but has to dance around the point to avoid looking too draconian on the issue. However, Rubio gets to do that only because previous Courts have left the interpretation of the current law somewhat ambiguous. By appointing the next Supreme Court justice(s) Rubio will get to decide what the law is.
I can guarantee that Republicans who keep voting to repeal Obamacare would feel a lot more squeamish about a vote that was not purely symbolic. Simply put, people hate “Obamacare” but they love the actual stuff that the Affordable Care Act puts in place. Local GOP officials know all about this. Even a goat-blowing moron like Matt Bevin discovered that something as simple as rolling back Medicaid was a lot harder than it looked. The dog really does not want to catch this car. Of course it would absolutely delight the GOP if the Supreme Court did the dirty work for them. Justices don’t worry about election and Republicans could semi-credibly paint Democrats as having screwed up by not writing a watertight law.
However, that trick requires a bit of separation between the GOP and the groundshaking SCOTUS decision that their election win produces. If you make the election explicitly and overwhelmingly about whether the candidate will appoint a Court to take away your health care, I predict people will choose their health care. I suppose the GOP nominee could try the usual rhetoric about litimus tests, but I doubt that will fly with today’s base. They feel betrayed by Souter and Roberts let them down. I think years of Foxification, Tea Partying and Trump have left the frothing hordes expecting something more tangible from their nominee. Of course if he does make firm commitments then Republicans will get slaughtered both in the general election and down ballot.
Trump is a bit of a wild card here. I think the base would give him a lot more leeway than a squish like Kasich or Bush. However I expect he would make all kinds of ridiculous commitments anyway, just because it is in the news and that is exactly the sort of stupid thing Trump would say and then double and triple down on just because
Doom The Donald never corrects himself. Further, I think a vacant Supreme Court seat will make many people see this race as something more tangible than just a fun chance to vent their id. Of course Tocqueville pointed out long ago that you should judge a President first and foremost by how they would seat Justices. But most people don’t read Tocqueville. Losing access to contraceptive and abortion services completely, if you’re poor and live in the wrong state, has a more sobering effect than some dead French guy.
Maybe I am wrong about all this. But I don’t think so. I suspect that the open seat will clarify the race in a way that makes Mitch McConnell sorely regret not just working with Obama to get some compromise candidate approved before this election season gets completely out of hand.