Bret Stephens: Gail, it’s as if someone dared 2020 to get worse, and 2020 replied: “Just try me.” Right now I’m just sitting on my porch, awaiting a plague of locusts.
Gail Collins: Yeah, the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a real blow. The loss of a great American combined with the realization that Mitch McConnell is now the happiest guy in the world. All his evil deeds thwarting President Obama’s judicial nominations are paying off big time.
Bret: One of the ways in which I measure Ginsburg’s impact is to see how deeply her death has affected my daughters as well as my mother. My mom remembers what life was like when the only degree women were expected to earn was a “Mrs.” And my daughters recognize the role Ginsburg played in opening a world of personal and professional possibility for them.
As for McConnell, I’ll invite our readers to help me rewrite the lyrics of the Rolling Stones classic, “Sympathy for the Devil.” Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a majority leader in great haste/I’ve been around for a long, long year/Stole Garland’s nomination, sealed his fate ….
Gail: I think we’ve got a hit on our hands …
Bret: My hope here is that Mitt Romney will join Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins and hoist McConnell on his own petard by refusing to vote for any nominee until the election is decided.
Gail: Yeah, and some other endangered Republicans from blue states, like Cory Gardner of Colorado, would have to be worried about taking a screw-the-election stand. We need four altogether.
I’m hoping for a national movement, where people just keep texting: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. Therefore this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
That, as I know you know, is what McConnell said in 2016 when President Obama was on the road to nominating his moderate Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. All of which happened nearly a year before the end of Obama’s term.
Bret: Yep. And here’s South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham in October 2018: “I will tell you this: This may make you feel better, but I really don’t care. If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term” and “the primary process is started, we will wait to the next election.” And here’s Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson in 2016: “In the politicized atmosphere of an election year, you probably shouldn’t even nominate someone …. It’s not fair to the nominee, it’s not fair to the court.”
I could go on. You may know this already, Gail, but most Senate Republicans were actually born in the exact same county, a woodsy place called Chutzpahina. You’ll find it on the map tucked between South Cynicalassas and North Hypocritian.
The question I have is this: Will the G.O.P. pay any political price for doing this? Or do people just assume that politics is now just a big game of Fight Club (except, in this Fight Club, everyone talks about Fight Club)?
Gail: I truly hope there are enough reasonable Republicans who think their best shot might be to let this slide until after the election.
Bret: Well, that’s true of Collins, probably because Maine has always had an independent-minded streak. For any other Republican incumbent in a tight race, the key to winning will be to turn out the conservative base, and their base is going to want a third Trump justice on the high court. I have greater hopes for Republicans in safe G.O.P. seats. But even they have to worry about being challenged in a primary, which leads me to think that an otherwise qualified nominee, like the seventh circuit’s Amy Coney Barrett, will be approved.
Gail: One last Supreme Court question — how much of this obsession with one-party control of the nomination is driven totally and solely by the abortion issue?
Bret: Not sure if it’s totally and solely, but it’s definitely a lot. That’s especially true now that Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s liberal wing this summer in striking down a restrictive Louisiana abortion law. One of the biggest conservative frustrations of the last 30 years is that the court’s 5-4 balance has never been enough to tip the scales when it comes to abortion rights, so they’ll see this nomination as their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Gail: Yeah, I’m afraid you’re right.
Bret: Personally, the idea of a court with a 6-3 split worries me, and not just because I’m pro-choice. An ideologically lopsided court risks discrediting itself with too many Americans and could lead to all kinds of mischief, like an effort to pack the court with additional justices.
But, Gail, should we be sure that a court battle necessarily helps Trump? Won’t it also energize Democrats or wavering independents to vote for Biden?
Gail: Well it’ll certainly energize a lot of pro-choice women. That has to be on the minds of people like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski who are trying to balance on the let’s-wait-until-after-the-election wire.
“Let’s wait” is a pretty powerful stance at times like these, when everybody feels they’re being batted around by crazy people.
Bret: It’s actually the most conservative advice possible, which just reminds me of another way in which Trump is not conservative. After all, if he’s so confident he’s going to beat Sleepy Joe, why not wait till January?
Bret: The flip side of this, alas, is that a fight for a Supreme Court nominee will mobilize the right, particularly evangelical Christians. That’s my theory of what happened with Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination in 2018, and is probably a big reason Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate.
Gail: Did you ever meet Ginsburg, by the way? I only interviewed her once but I was struck by her calm and her approachability.
Bret: You wrote a lovely remembrance of her in your column on Friday. I’m sorry to say I never got to meet her. In fact, the only Supreme Court Justice I’ve ever met is Stephen Breyer, who was totally low-key and delightfully disarming. I get the impression that Ginsburg was a lot like so many Jewish women I grew up around, particularly of her generation, which is basically a sum consisting of (1) intimidating brilliance + (2) unyielding hatred of injustice + (3) you’re too skinny, didn’t anyone feed you lunch?
Gail: And she had a very good sense of humor, don’t forget that one.
Bret: Anything else strike you about Ginsburg?
Gail: I just called her office and asked if she’d see me. No particular topic or anything. They asked and she said sure. Pretty drama-free, but I’ll certainly always remember it. Her accessibility was another big part of her character.
I don’t think I got super-special treatment. She was traveling constantly, giving talks and answering questions. She never seemed to have any sense that a Supreme Court justice deserved to be treated like a celebrity.
Bret: Every indisputably great person I’ve ever met has managed to transcend the trappings of their own power or celebrity or wealth by not taking themselves, or the trappings, at all seriously. Vaclav Havel comes to mind, as does John McCain. And every indisputable jerk I’ve ever met has done the exact opposite.
You know who comes to mind there, right? The guy whose reign we can only wish Ruth Bader Ginsburg — may her memory be for a blessing — had outlasted.