If this was a movie, the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be the 11th hour plot twist that surprises everyone. It’s the, “Luke, I am your father” in The Empire Strikes Back, or the, “Rosebud” in Citizen Kane. It changes everything.
After months and months of near constant polling data, this is the late break that President Donald Trump and his campaign have been looking for. It provides an opening to incentivize his Republican base and narrow the gap with Joe Biden.
On the other side of things, the Democrats are in a precarious position. They have been in command of the campaign for months, but things could change in a heartbeat. The fact that the polls haven’t tightened yet is a good sign for Biden — normally, as election day draws nearer, polls will show the candidates converging — but there’s little definitive post-RBG polls to know how much it will impact the election.
The question now, for Democrats, is how to turn a negative into as much of a positive as possible. The death of RBG is bound to incentivize Trump’s base, but it can also serve a purpose for Democrats. It can excite the blue base, as well.
There is, however, a distinct way to do just that. It’s a balancing act of choosing the right issues that incentivize Democrats but do nothing to further drive the turnout of Republican and Trump voters.
For one, Democrats must steer clear of ideological issues. Arguing the second amendment and abortion rights with Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s likely Supreme Court pick, will do nothing for Democrats and everything for Republicans. It will pinpoint the social issues that the right believes most in.
Democrats also shouldn’t focus on the institution-changing nature of this appointment. The ideological makeup of the court is an issue that might excite the politically-involved, sure, but it is an issue that exceeds the interest of most Americans.
What the Democrats should harp on is the hypocrisy of this moment for Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans. This issue is clear-cut — and Democrats have the tapes to prove it.
“I want you to use my words against me," Lindsay Graham said in 2016 about the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. "If there's a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say, ‘Lindsey Graham said let's let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.’”
Political hypocrisy doesn’t get any more obvious than that. Those comments are not hard to understand and play directly into Democrats hands — especially in an election year for the South Carolina senator.
Democrats should also be sure to emphasis the personal issues and scandals — if there are any — of Barrett. As it did with Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 — one of the most ugly and brutal court nominations in American history — such issues can provide non-ideological reasons for votes against the candidate.
With Kavanaugh, three Republican senators — Jeff Flake, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski — said they would not support his nomination without an FBI investigation. That dissent proved that personal scandals can come in the way of successful nomination, and while McConnell currently has the votes to push Barrett’s nomination through, every vote matters.
It will be difficult for Democrats to stick to the plan. The low-hanging fruit — and easy campaigning tactic — is to attack Barrett on ideological grounds, but such attacks do nothing to support Biden’s candidacy. To the extent that they can, Democrats should attempt to turn RBG’s death into a positive by focusing on the political hypocrisy of the Republican senate and the personal scandals — if there are any — of Barrett.
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