Republican presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks at the Growth and Opportunity Party, at the Iowa State Fair Oct. 31, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Photo by Steve Pope/Getty

Senate Republicans get the Supreme Court fight backwards

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has a variety of talking points as part of the fight over the Supreme Court vacancy, each of which are factually wrong. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said Republicans had to block Merrick Garland's Supreme Court nomination last year because Republicans "didn't agree" to give him a vote -- which may be true, but it's also a strikingly underwhelming argument.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said today Judge Neil Gorsuch's nomination has the benefit of "super-legitimacy," because the American electorate knew in advance that the next president would fill the existing Supreme Court vacancy. That might be compelling, were it not for an annoying detail: Hillary Clinton received nearly 3 million more votes from American voters than Donald Trump. (Cruz, who also endorsed an eight-member court when he assumed Hillary Clinton would win, is now bemoaning Democratic obstructionism, imposing real injuries on irony.)

But perhaps the very worst of the GOP arguments came this morning from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). TPM reported on the senator's case, as presented on MSNBC.

"It certainly is the end of bipartisanship on judges," if Democrats filibuster Gorsuch, Graham told reporters, in an exchange broadcast by MSNBC. "We'll have a partisan vote on every federal judge, at least at the circuit and Supreme Court level. Reaching across the aisle will be a thing of the past. You'll get more ideological judges. And it makes every open Senate seat a referendum on the future of the Supreme Court. That's what happens when you do it within one party."

Asked if McConnell would invoke the nuclear option if faced with a filibuster, Graham responded, "Oh yeah, we have no other choice."

"We're not going to have a rule, a tradition in the Senate where they get their judges and President Trump can't get his," he said.

Lindsey Graham, in other words, has the entire fight backwards.

When he and his GOP colleagues imposed a blockade last year on any Supreme Court nominee -- the first such blockade in the history of the United States -- it was not in keeping with "bipartisanship on judges." It was a raw, partisan display, and an abuse without modern rival, and it did lasting harm to the institution, whether Graham and his cohorts are prepared to take responsibility for this or not.

The result was a dynamic in which Republicans effectively said Trump can have his far-right nominee confirmed -- even if it means changing the rules in another display of partisan power -- but President Obama can't have his centrist, compromise nominee even considered (no hearing, no debate, no floor vote).

What Lindsey Graham has done is effectively take the Democrats' argument, reverse the party names, and pretend that Republicans are somehow a victim of unfair play.

That's hopelessly bonkers. In fact, it's effectively the literal opposite of recent events --- and for Graham, this isn't the first time he participated in an abuse, only to claim soon after that he was the abused.

This isn't complicated: if Republicans had better arguments to defend their behavior, they wouldn't have to make stuff up.