Battleground Bulletin: Here’s why the fight over RBG’s Supreme Court seat will backfire on Trump

September 27, 2020

Here’s why the fight over RBG’s Supreme Court seat will backfire on Trump

Voters want the next president to fill the seat. Republicans ignore them at their own peril.

As news of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death rippled across the D.C. media ecosystem last week, a familiar refrain began to echo from the mouths and keyboards of the pundit class.

This could be good for the Trump campaign, they hypothesized.

Nothing will motivate Republican voters more than an open Supreme Court seat, they theorized.

Maybe this will finally shake up the race, they fantasized.

It’s hard to totally fault that kneejerk reaction. After all, it’s become a widely accepted belief in Washington that Republicans benefit the most from high-profile fights over judicial nominations. It’s like political catnip for their base, magically luring them to the voting booth — or so the story goes.

But whether you’ve accepted that particular piece of conventional wisdom in the past or not, a mountain of recent data says this time is inexorably different. The debate over how to fill Justice Ginsburg’s seat is not simply one about process. It’s a debate about the countless underlying issues facing the court in the next few terms, particularly the fate of the Affordable Care Act. Shining a brighter spotlight on the concerted efforts by Donald Trump and his Republican allies to strip millions of Americans of their health insurance — and by contrast, highlighting Joe Biden’s commitment to expanding access to high-quality, affordable care — will only further elevate the very real choice facing voters on health care this November. And as we’ve said many times before, this is a fight that Democrats win.

But even if you’re hellbent on making this a process story, the usual rules simply don’t apply this time around. The conditions on the ground are drastically different than in past confirmation battles. Not only are Democratic voters more motivated by the vacancy than their Republican counterparts, but large majorities of voters across the board disapprove of Trump and Senate Republicans’ corrupt scheme to steal another seat on the nation’s highest court and instead prefer that Joe Biden nominate the next justice.

If the Supreme Court fight was supposed to be the surprise wild card that would swing the race back in Trump’s direction, it appears the president may have just busted. (And that’s not entirely surprising for a man who managed to find a way to go bankrupt while running casinos — four times.)

Voters care about the courts — and Democrats are especially fired up.

Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not just strong partisans who care about the courts. In fact, voters across the political spectrum view the Supreme Court as a crucial factor in their 2020 decision-making.

In an August survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 64% of voters said Supreme Court appointments were very important to their presidential vote, trailing only the economy (79%) and health care (68%) as the third most important issue in the election — and that was before Justice Ginsburg’s passing kicked off this latest surge of interest. Furthermore, Biden supporters were actually more likely to say Court picks were very important to their vote than Trump supporters, 66% to 61%. And in early September, Marquette University Law School’s nationwide survey produced similar findings, with 59% of Biden supporters identifying the Supreme Court as a “very important” factor in their votes compared to 51% of Trump voters.

It appears this dynamic has only intensified with the events of the past week. In a battleground state poll conducted by CNBC and Change Research following Justice Ginsburg’s death, 85% of voters said the next Supreme Court justice is at least a somewhat important consideration in their votes this November, with Democrats placing greater emphasis on the issue than Republicans. Roughly three-quarters (74%) of Democratic voters reported that the Supreme Court nominee was either the single most important factor or a very important consideration for them, while 63% of Republican voters said the same.

This heightened focus on the courts reflects what we’ve seen in our own polling for months. In Priorities USA’s most recent battleground survey of the voters Democrats most need to mobilize to vote, conducted prior to Justice Ginsburg’s passing, we tested a message about Joe Biden’s ability to appoint judges to the Supreme Court who will protect a woman’s right to choose, uphold environmental protections, and protect civil rights and voting rights — along with a reminder that if Trump gets reelected and appoints the judges he wants, all of this is in danger. Roughly two-thirds of respondents gave this message the highest marks as a reason to be enthusiastic about voting for Biden, putting it at the top of a long list of issues — including 70% of Black voters and 71% of Latino voters. When respondents were asked to rank-order the same list of reasons to vote for Joe Biden, the message about the Supreme Court again rose to the top, ranking second only to Biden’s plans to undo the damage done by Trump when he takes office.

As we’ve noted previously, the so-called “enthusiasm gap” is nonexistent. Democrats have always been extremely fired up to vote in this election. But this latest battle for the soul of the American judiciary appears to have cranked the motivation meter all the way to 11.

Large majorities oppose Trump’s efforts to steal another Supreme Court seat.

Of course, this isn’t your garden-variety Supreme Court vacancy. This is the longtime seat of a legendary liberal champion, poised to be hijacked by a conservative president in the middle of an ongoing election — all made possible by his shameless willingness to disregard the very “precedent” that his own party conveniently invented out of thin air just four years ago in order to steal another Supreme Court seat.

Since Americans are neither stupid nor suffer from collective memory loss, it shouldn’t be surprising that they’re not buying into Trump’s latest seat-swiping scheme. Turns out, despite Trump’s many efforts to the contrary, fairness remains a fundamental American value — even for some in the president’s own party.

A new Navigator survey shows that voters believe the next president should nominate Justice Ginsburg’s replacement by a massive 20-point margin, with 56% saying that whoever wins in November should fill the seat and only 36% saying Trump should pick a replacement immediately. Independents also favor waiting to nominate a new justice by a 14-point margin, and even one in five Republicans oppose Trump’s attempt to rush through a confirmation before the election.

Those numbers are nearly identical to CNN’s latest poll findings, which showed an 18-point spread in favor of delaying the appointment. In that survey, 59% of voters want the election winner to pick the next justice versus 41% who prefer Trump to make the choice. Independents say the same by an identical margin, with 17% of Republicans also breaking with their party’s current push for plunder.

And this nationwide preference for patience also holds true across the states most likely to decide the election. In the latest battleground poll from CNBC and Change Research referenced above, an outright majority of swing state voters (52%) said Trump should not fill Ginsburg’s seat if he loses the election, while only 43% said Trump should be able to fill the Court seat regardless of the outcome.

Of course, that overwhelming opposition won’t faze Mitch McConnell and his merry band of parliamentary pirates. But that doesn’t mean it won’t come back to bite them — and their party boss — at the ballot box.

Voters want Biden, not Trump, to fill Ginsburg’s seat.

There’s a lot riding on this pick, to say the least. If Trump succeeds in replacing Justice Ginsburg with arch-conservative Amy Coney Barrett, and thus flipping the Court’s balance of power, several generations’ worth of progress could be in jeopardy. From the Affordable Care Act to a woman’s right to choose to environmental protections, an overwhelmingly conservative court with another hand-picked Trump justice would pose an existential threat to a wide variety of essential protections and freedoms that Americans hold dear.

So naturally, those Americans would strongly prefer that Joe Biden and the Democrats fill the seat instead. In a recent Fox News poll, when battleground state voters were asked who they trust more to nominate the next Supreme Court justice, 52% picked Biden while only 45% opted for Trump. Similarly, in Navigator’s latest national survey, respondents also said they trust Democrats in Congress more than Trump to put the right people on the Supreme Court by a 10-point margin, 49% to 39%.

But don’t take our word for it. According to recent reporting, Republicans are seeing the same thing in their own internal polling:

“The poll — conducted over the weekend among about 1,500 likely voters in 17 swing states, including Arizona, Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania — showed that 51 percent of voters said they trust Biden more than Trump to handle the vacancy, while only 43 percent said they trusted Trump. The document also found that only 28 percent of the voters said they would be more likely to vote for Trump if a replacement is confirmed, while 38 percent said they would be less likely.”

No matter how you slice it, public opinion couldn’t be more clear. Republicans are on the defense here — particularly as Democrats continue to press our advantage by framing this fight around health care. Voters care deeply about this vacancy, and they do not want Trump and his Senate co-conspirators rushing another extreme judge with a lifetime term onto the Supreme Court in the middle of an election. They want their voices to be heard at the polls, and they want Joe Biden to fill that seat when he’s inaugurated as their next president.

Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell may choose to tune out the voice of the people yet again — but they do so at their own peril.

With less than 40 days until the election, the Trump camp is desperately playing catch up while Joe Biden has amassed a massive war chest and obliterated Donald Trump’s early cash advantage. From mid-August to mid-September, the Biden campaign spent $128.4 million compared with the Trump campaign’s $63.5 million.

Meanwhile, Priorities has dramatically increased our spending in Florida and Pennsylvania. If Joe Biden wins Florida, Donald Trump’s defeat is all but assured — and Priorities’ analyses show that Pennsylvania is most likely to be the tipping point on Biden’s electoral path to victory. As part of Mike Bloomberg’s recent decision to invest $100 million to elect Joe Biden in Florida, Priorities spent over $6 million last week on TV, digital, and radio advertising in the Sunshine State. Much of Priorities’ advertising efforts in Florida have focused on Hispanic voters in partnership with Latino Victory Fund and the American Federation of Teachers.

Priorities recently announced a $7.3 million expansion to its investment in Pennsylvania, with $3.5 million in additional spending on digital advertising and $3.8 million spent on TV. 

Over the last month, pro-Biden entities have significantly outspent pro-Trump entities in key battleground states: 

“I Wanted To Always Play It Down” 

Back in March, Priorities released an ad titled “Exponential Threat” holding Donald Trump accountable for his failure to control the coronavirus, leading to exploding case counts, thousands of deaths, and millions out of work. Donald Trump sued in an attempt to censor this ad that used his own words.

In a new TV ad, “Responsibility,” Priorities USA Action has recreated “Exponential Threat” to reflect the revelations in Bob Woodward’s new book that Donald Trump intentionally downplayed the threat of the coronavirus. Now hundreds of thousands of Americans are dead because the Trump administration did not prepare for this crisis.

Responsibility” is running on TV in Florida as part of the multimillion-dollar partnership between Mike Bloomberg and Priorities USA Action. The ad is also running in Pennsylvania as part of Priorities’ $7.3 million expansion of TV and digital advertising in the state.

Our Health Care is on the Line

The passing of Justice Ginsburg has raised the stakes of an already unprecedented election. Donald Trump has promised to fill the seat, despite Justice Ginsburg’s wishes, with a justice who will likely cast a decisive vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act and strip millions of Americans of their health care coverage.

Priorities has consistently highlighted health care as a top priority for voters. “Not For Us,” a TV ad running in Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, focuses on Donald Trump’s efforts to destroy our health care while giving tax breaks to his wealthy friends. 

Election Day is Here

While November 3rd is still five weeks away, Americans have already started mailing in their ballots and going to the polls for in-person early voting. Priorities USA and Senate Majority PAC have partnered to create a series of bilingual digital ads targeting likely Democratic voters and encouraging them to turn out.

“Vote Blue” will run in English and Spanish on digital platforms in states key to winning the presidency and flipping the Senate.

While Joe Biden Leads, Donald Trump Hopes For a Miracle

Priorities USA Action and Latino Victory Fund have partnered to create two Spanish-language radio ads running in Florida and Arizona. The ads emphasize Joe Biden’s strong, steady leadership contrasted with Donald Trump’s recklessness and delusion about the coronavirus.

Empatía” (Empathy) highlights Joe Biden’s proven record of empathy and leadership, noting that his experience in the Obama administration equips him to lead us out of the coronavirus crisis and rebuild our economy.

Trump has been quoted stating that “a miracle” is needed to solve COVID-19. In “Milagro” (Miracle), a Spanish speaker emphasizes that all we need is a leader who knows how to govern and listens to experts. That leader is Joe Biden.