What I am about to write may very well change. As Mark A. Kilmer says, “Polls is Polls.” But, let’s assume things stay constant and consider how Democrats have shot themselves in the foot.
One of the Senatorial hallmarks of the past four years has been the Democrats blocking, repeatedly, the President’s power of judicial appointments. Because the Senate confirms the appointments and the Democrats have filibustered those appointments, the President has not been able add many judges to the federal bench. Oh, and let’s be honest, a lot of the appointments were fairly moderate appointments that the Democrats chose to cast as ultra-conservative. It helped them tap a source of grassroots funds that would have otherwise not been generally motivated to give.
Well, the Democrats might have just blown their chance to get moderates on the bench and, in the process, shot themselves in the foot. If the President gets re-elected, as Matt Dowd, the President’s pollster, said, “It will depend more on turning out the base than turning out the undecideds.” The President’s base is largely conservative – a conservative base that has put up with the farm bill, out of control spending, a growing deficit, a failure to stand up repeatedly for conservative principles, and various other moderately liberal things the President has done.
The one area the President has largely helped the conservative movement was in the appointment power. If the President gets re-elected, it will be the conservative base that is largely owed and it will be the conservative base that will largely be thanked – no doubt, again through appointments.
Where does that leave the Democrats? Polling suggests that the Democrats will pick up Illinois, but lose Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and possibly North Carolina – a two to three seat pick up by the Republicans. With possibly one exception, I am not aware of any other President after 1900 who has, in two successive elections, had his own party gain seats in Congress. While the House of Representatives will be largely due to redistricting, the Senate stands, potentially, as a failure of the Democrats to convey a sense of good governance and mainstream thinking.
The Democrats have a great trump card right now. They can filibuster to their heart’s content. They have blocked and stymied the President for four years, a portion of which they controlled the Senate. But, if things stay constant, the Democrats are set to shrink their numbers in the Senate even further and have less clout in blocking nominations.
It would appear that two to three seats on the Supreme Court might become available in the next two years – Rehnquist, O’Connor, and Stevens. While the President might nominate one guaranteed moderate, Al Gonzales, he will probably also nominate people like Miguel Estrada and other conservatives. The chief argument the Democrats have used to block nominations to the bench has been that Bush did not receive a majority of the popular vote and has no mandate to appoint conservatives to the bench. That mandate is about to run the Democrats off the cliff.
Senators in the minority have been unwilling, with few exceptions, to negotiate in the past four years. They have portrayed themselves as negotiating, but have not actually done so. There are numerous vacancies open on the federal bench and more will open at the highest levels. Daschle and Company could have negotiated to put a mix of moderate to conservative judges on the bench — to some degree they have at the district court level. They are about out of time to negotiate. Filibustering over the next four years will, more than likely, cause frustrated Republicans solidly in the majority to deploy the nuclear option. With that, the interests of lefty political groups will go up in smoke – much like their party appears to be doing in 2004.