Supreme Court Fight Galvanizes Final Sprint of Trump-Biden Race
(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump’s plans to name a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg this week offer Joe Biden the chance to galvanize newly energized Democrats, while providing the president a fresh battle in a culture war he’s waged for four years.
Early reaction to Ginsburg’s death on Friday suggests Biden stands to gain more politically from the sudden vacancy, as it underscores the stakes of the contest for liberal voters who had been reluctant to endorse his centrist candidacy.
A flood of Democratic fundraising since Friday signals that fear of a generation-long conservative hold on the Supreme Court has rallied support behind the former vice president, and gives Biden a new chance to extend his advantage with younger and female voters who viewed Ginsburg as an icon.
In the 48 hours after Ginsburg’s death, donors poured more than $120 million into the ActBlue platform, which processes grassroots donations for Democratic Party candidates and causes. That included $71 million on Saturday alone, shattering the party’s previous one-day record of $42 million.
The donations on the left may accelerate after Trump names his choice to replace the justice, who will be memorialized at the Supreme Court this week followed by a private burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
Republicans did not report any comparable figures over the weekend. Their voters have historically shown higher interest in the court, and may already regard Trump’s re-election as a way to lock in a conservative majority.
Yet Trump’s allies sense there could be immediate political advantage for them as well. The coming nomination is a welcome chance to refocus attention on the nation’s cultural divisions, animating conservative loyalists who may have grown cold to the president after months dominated by coverage of the Trump administration’s struggles to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
And the pick – which the president has already said will be a woman – is an opportunity for Trump to try to curry favor with a demographic that has soured on his performance, polls indicate.
The nomination fight undoubtedly will dominate the closing six weeks of the campaign, and how each candidate navigates that rugged political terrain could ultimately decide the race for the White House.
Biden will likely face increasing pressure from the left to endorse dramatic responses if Trump prevails with his nomination, from admitting the District of Columbia as a 51st state to increasing the size of the Supreme Court. The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, told colleagues on Saturday that “nothing is off the table” next year if Republicans replace Ginsburg.
Trump will have to carefully navigate the moment, knowing he must both placate a base hungry for conservative dominance of the judiciary while not further alienating moderate voters already weary of the constant controversy of his first term. The president’s choice will amount to a virtual running mate for the remaining weeks of the campaign.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Sunday found that 62% of American adults, including half of Republicans surveyed, think Ginsburg should be replaced by the winner of the November election.
“In just a few weeks, all votes in this nation will be heard,” Biden said in a speech in Philadelphia Sunday. “They’re the ones who should decide.”
Polling before Ginsburg’s death suggested the Supreme Court was already a more animating concern to Democrats, a reversal from 2016. In a Marquette University Law School poll completed three days before Ginsburg’s death, 59% of Biden supporters said a new court appointment was “very” important to their decision, versus 51% of Trump voters.
For now, Biden plans to put the focus back on health care, underscoring the risk a conservative-dominated Supreme Court poses to the Affordable Care Act. Two years ago, his party rode a campaign centered on protecting Obamacare to control of the House of Representatives.
Health care is an issue where Democrats hold a consistent advantage with the electorate. The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments to eliminate the law for a third time in its coming term, and the loss of a crucial liberal vote leaves the signature Obama administration achievement in jeopardy.
Oral arguments in California v. Texas are scheduled for Nov. 10, just a week after Election Day. The case, led by Texas and supported by the Trump administration, argues that the entire law is unconstitutional because Republicans neutered the individual mandate, the requirement that most Americans carry insurance.
If Republicans prevail, Americans would lose the law’s protections against insurers denying sick people coverage. Biden underscored that danger in his speech on Sunday, noting that Covid-19 leaves lasting health complications for many survivors that insurance companies would consider pre-existing conditions.
It’s a particular weakness for Trump because he has yet to produce a long-awaited replacement plan for his predecessor’s health law.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday found that by 20 points -- 51%-31% -- voters say Biden would better handle health care.
Biden’s advisers say he’ll also emphasize the court’s influence on everyday life over the intricacies of the confirmation battle itself.
“This is not about the process – fair or unfair, that is going to go on – this is about what it means for people and their lives,” said Biden pollster John Anzalone, ticking off issues such as reproductive rights, health care and immigration that the Supreme Court will delve into.
For their part, White House officials say they’re unsure how Ginsburg’s death will impact the election.
“I don’t think we know yet,” Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, said Sunday. “I do think a lot of the American people elected Donald Trump in 2016 because he said, here’s my list, here’s what I’ll do with the Supreme Court.”
Trump has criticized Biden for not releasing his own list of future Supreme Court nominees. Biden has said he would nominate a Black woman, but that he won’t commit to a list of names because he would consult with lawmakers, thoroughly vet candidates and avoid the appearance of undue interference in the judiciary.
Short also said the White House sees strong passions on both sides – which may limit the immediate electoral impact of Ginsburg’s death. In the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, only 1% of Biden supporters and 2% of Trump supporters said there was a “fair” chance they might eventually support the other candidate.
“Both sides are about as energized as they could be,” Short said.
Still, the president appeared to be hunting for an electoral edge with his nominating process.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Trump noted that one possible nominee -- federal judge Barbara Lagoa -- is a Cuban American from Miami, underscoring a possible electoral calculation in a must-win state. A CBS News poll released Sunday showed Biden with a 48%-46% advantage in Florida.
Trump reveled in the enthusiasm among supporters shouting “fill that seat” during a rally in North Carolina on Saturday – echoing the anti-Hillary Clinton “lock her up” chants from 2016.
“That’s the new chant now,” the president responded.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.