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Justice Scalia's death plays right into Ted Cruz's stump speech

Scalia's death sent candidates rushing for new rhetoric. But Ted Cruz wasn’t one of them: He’s been obsessing about the Supreme Court for much of his campaign.
Senator Ted Cruz at a rally in Ames, Iowa, Jan. 30, 2016.
Senator Ted Cruz at a rally in Ames, Iowa, Jan. 30, 2016.

Stumping for Sen. Ted Cruz on Monday, conservative commentator Glenn Beck asked voters: Whom do you trust to nominate a Supreme Court justice?

“The next president of the United States may have to nominate three other justices ... This is a 30-year problem,” Beck said. “Who do you trust? You trust the game show host?” 

These questions are being asked on the campaign trail relentlessly in the wake of Justice Antonin Scalia’s passing. His death leaves a completely split court: Four justices were appointed by Republicans, and four were appointed by Democrats. Amid a contentious, crowded Republican presidential primary race, the stalwart conservative’s departure from the bench sent candidates spiraling toward new talking points and rhetoric ahead of Saturday night’s presidential debate, held just hours after Scalia’s passing. 

But Cruz wasn’t one of them. He’s been obsessing about the Supreme Court for much of his campaign, and Scalia’s death simply highlights what he’s been saying for weeks.

It should be no surprise that the former Supreme Court clerk who has decried the court’s recent decisions on gay marriage and Obamacare, calling them “judicial tyranny,” has his eyes on the power of nomination. The issue tends towards the more abstract -- it surely wouldn't have been the first question in Saturday night's debate had Scalia been alive -- but it fits well into Cruz’s appeal to his supporters that he's a conservative champion. A split bench makes Cruz's argument that Christian values that are under attack quite palpable and real.

So it's also no surprise that Cruz’s stump speech remained largely unchanged on Monday. “We are one justice away from mandating unlimited abortion on demand,” he said.

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One more judge, Cruz said Monday, as he often does on the trail, and the country will fundamentally change for the worse. 

“One more justice, and the court will hold not a single human being has any right under the Second Amendment,” Cruz said in South Carolina in mid-January.

Another liberal judge would leave the nation with a “left-wing majority that would fundamentally transform this country,” he said in Iowa a week later.

Cruz has been attacking his opponents through the lens of the Supreme Court nomination process, too.

“I’ll tell ya, if we nominate and elect a president who spent the first 60 years of his life supporting partial birth abortion, we should not be surprised when we see the Supreme Court justices that that president puts on the Supreme Court,” he said in Iowa just before the state's caucus.

On Monday, Cruz reiterated a similar attack. The only difference? This time, it's likely to make headlines. 

“Donald’s sister was a Bill Clinton appellate judge,” he said on Monday. “He said his sister would make a terrific Supreme Court justice. A vote for Donald Trump is a vote to take away the Second Amendment.”