If there is one factor responsible for massively impacting President Donald Trump's surprise 2016 election victory, it had to be the open seat of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. By refusing to allow a confirmation hearing for President Barack Obama's appointee -- Judge Merrick Garland – and leaving the seat vacant for over a full year, the GOP easily propelled the religious right to the polls.
No wonder they're trying so hard to recreate that crisis.
There's little doubt for Republicans that the 2018 midterms are going to be a hard slog. They've under-performed in every election and special election that has taken place since President Trump was sworn into office. Even without that bellwether, the party in the White House traditionally gets hammered in the next midterm. And on top of that, President Trump has been one of the most polarizing, unpopular presidents in history, making him a drag on any GOP ticket.
Of course, Trump was a drag in 2016, too, which is why Republicans chose to campaign primarily on their own, focusing like a laser beam on the issue of the courts. It worked surprisingly well, creating a blueprint for the right to follow again this election. Now that November is fast approaching, Republicans are ramping up the rhetoric, too.
For the religious right, President Trump has been the leader they never thought they'd see -- fervently anti-abortion, anti-Muslim and willing to embrace and promote religious liberty for Christians over all other policy issues. Social conservative leaders are chomping at the bit to return the U.S. to the mythical 1950s -- an era where gays were closeted, schools segregated and full of public prayer, women stayed home with children and birth control was a sin.
That's why conservatives are making a point to tell their followers just how close they are to making this a reality.
According to Right Wing Watch, far-right legal activist Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel told a religious right radio audience that they must hit the polls come the midterm, since that could be the point when a GOP majority in the Senate finally pushes the last remaining Supreme Court justice to overturn legal abortion and marriage equality.
Miranda Blue reports:
Staver added that social conservatives are 'one midterm election away from eventually overturning the Roe v. Wade decision' because 'there will be at least one, maybe two more' Supreme Court vacancies during Trump's first term in office.
If Trump is able to replace any liberal or moderate justice "with someone like Gorsuch," he said, "that means the abortion decision, the same-sex marriage decision, all of those things that went the wrong way will ultimately be in the balance to be reversed. So literally we are a few months away."
Staver isn't the only one rallying the far-right voting troops, either. Tony Perkins at Family Research Council points out that the midterms could well lead to extreme abortion bans like Iowa's new six-week "heartbeat ban" being upheld if the right judge makes it through.
According to RWW's Jared Holt:
"We are anticipating another retirement from the [Supreme] Court. Is it going to come this year? Don't know," Perkins said on 'Washington Watch.' "But a case like this usually -- it's going to take a while to get all the way up to the Supreme Court. So, the probability that there will be a new justice on the court by the time this gets to the court is very high."
The courts worked so well as a political tool in 2016 that Judicial Crisis Network -- an influential and extremely well funded right-wing legal action group -- is launching a campaign to accuse Democrats of "obstructing" President Trump's judicial appointments. It's a rich accusation, considering that the GOP blocked most of President Obama's nominees at the end of his term and left a mass of vacancies for the next president to fill.
Judicial Crisis Network's Carrie Severino announced:
President Trump and Senate Republicans have confirmed a record number of exceptionally qualified judges who will follow the law and uphold the Constitution. Senate Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer (D-NY), want to stop that progress so that liberal extremists can maintain control of our courts. Confirming President Trump's extraordinary nominees is a top priority for JCN, and we are committed to doing whatever necessary to end the Democratic obstruction.
That "whatever necessary to end the Democratic obstruction" inevitably means defeating Democrats in the midterms -- and creating a Republican Senate super majority is just icing on the campaign cake.
Will the courts be a compelling enough issue to drive GOP voters to the polls in November? The Republican Party definitely hopes so. After all, without the courts, they're stuck campaigning with nothing but President Trump.