Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), according to GOP sources, is quietly circulating a four-page memo throughout the Senate Republican Conference on the public's views on filling the high court's vacancy. The memo, obtained by POLITICO, makes the case that a majority of voters would prefer to keep deceased Justice Antonin Scalia's seat empty -- for a year or even longer -- rather than allow Obama to nominate a liberal justice that would move the court to the left.
Senate Republicans have launched a Supreme Court blockade unlike anything Americans have ever seen. Nearly every GOP senator has linked arms and vowed not to consider any high court nominee, regardless of qualifications or merit, until 2017, no matter the consequences.
From practically every angle, it's a dangerous, borderline scandalous, gambit that represents a new chapter in Republican radicalism, but Politico reports that some party leaders believe the unprecedented tactics will be "politically beneficial" for the GOP.
Though the entire polling memo does not appear to be publicly available, the document Cornyn is distributing to his members show that 54% of respondents "were more concerned about a liberal justice being chosen to replace Scalia," while nearly 41% "were more worried about the seat being open for a year or more."
It's certainly possible that Senate Republicans, perhaps looking for evidence that tells them what they want to hear, will be delighted to see these results. But there are two considerations for the GOP to keep in mind.
The first is that the survey Cornyn is excited about is only one poll, and there's quite a bit of evidence pointing in a contrary direction. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found most Americans disapprove of the Republican strategy. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll agreed, as did Public Policy Polling's findings. A Fox News poll found that 62% of Americans expect policymakers to fill the Supreme Court vacancy this year, not next.
In other words, if Republican senators want to know if the American mainstream is on board with their obstructionist tactics, they can cling to a memo from a partisan pollster, or they can consider the results from several independent surveys.
Of course, there may be some Republican senators who say polling is irrelevant, no matter what it says. Their opposition to President Obama is so extreme, they'll remain focused on blocking the confirmation process whether it's popular or not.
But for GOP senators who are worried about their re-election prospects, the risks are real. The Washington Post's Greg Sargent reported yesterday that the Democratic-affiliated Senate Majority PAC is launching a new ad in New Hampshire, which tells viewers, "Donald Trump wants the Senate to delay filling the Supreme Court vacancy so he can choose the nominee next year. And Senator Kelly Ayotte is right there to help. Ayotte joined Trump and party bosses in refusing to consider any nominee."
The same spot blasts the New Hampshire Republican for "ignoring the Constitution" and "not doing her job."
The Senate Majority Whip wants his members to believe the blockade will be "politically beneficial." They're taking a risk if they believe him.