Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., second from right, walks with, from left, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, right, for a media availability on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

If McConnell Goes Wobbly Instead Of Nuclear, Senate Republicans Should Oust Him, Or Else Get Primaried

President Trump fulfilled his most important campaign promise last night:

This may be the most transparent judicial selection process in history. Months ago as a candidate, I publicly presented a list of brilliant and accomplished people to the American electorate and pledged to make my choice from among that list. Millions of voters said this was the single most important issue to them when they voted for me for president. I am a man of my word. I will do as I say, something that the American people have been asking for from Washington for a very, very long time.

#NeverTrumpers had a simple response when other conservatives told us that voting for Trump would save the Supreme Court: how do we know Trump will keep his word? Now we know.

Trump won because conservatives expected him to deliver on Supreme Court nominations. Judge Neil Gorsuch could not have been a better pick.

Trump gets it.

But do Senate Republicans?

Sen. Ted Cruz seems hopeful, telling CNN last night that “What I can tell you is that Democrats will not succeed in filibustering Judge Gorsuch.”

Cruz seems to think that Democrats won’t try. Or that if they do, Republicans will go “nuclear” – i.e., they’ll change the Senate rule to lower the number of votes needed to overcome a filibuster for Supreme Court confirmations from 60 to 51.

I hope he’s right. But what if he’s not? What if Democrats filibuster Gorsuch? And if they don’t now, what happens if they filibuster Trump’s next Supreme Court nomination?

Will Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have the spine to go nuclear? An interview he gave to The Hill a few days ago was not encouraging:

Senate rules are a matter for the Senate, and a lot of other people have opinions….We’ve already adopted the rules for this Congress at the beginning of the year…. It takes 67 votes to change the rules in the Senate. We saw one rather conspicuous exception to that a few years ago, but no we don’t have any current plans on the rules.

McConnell is referring to the modification in 2013 by Senate Democrats to the filibuster rule for cabinet appointees to require only a simple majority to overcome a filibuster rather than 60 votes.

So when Democrats need to modify the filibuster rule, 51 votes can get the job done. When Republicans need to, however, it takes 67. McConnell didn’t explain why Democrats get to play by different rules than Republicans.

True to form, McConnell has locked himself into a preemptive surrender. And when Republicans declare upfront an intent to surrender, Democrats are usually willing to declare war. They’d be fools not to. And if not with Gorsuch, then with Trump’s next pick.

Republicans around the nation need to make clear, starting now, that failure by Senate Republicans to confirm conservative Supreme Court nominees with stellar credentials — at a time when Republicans control the chamber — is unacceptable.

Republicans need to tell Senate Republicans to remove McConnell as majority leader if he surrenders to a Democrat filibuster – or be primaried if they don’t. Because the Majority Leader serves at their pleasure, which means they own McConnell’s failures as much as he does.

By sending that message now, by recruiting potential primary challengers now, and by organizing now, conservatives around the nation can promise rather than merely threaten to exact a price for any cowardice and incompetence by Senate Republicans on what is the most important issue for Americans who still believe in the Framers’ Constitution.

Primary challenges against incumbent senators are difficult, of course. But the outrage from Republican voters resulting from a failure to confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominees might be enough to carry the day for many challengers.

And Trump should send a subtle (or, perhaps, not so subtle) message to Senate Republicans that embarrassing him by failing to confirm his Supreme Court picks might result in his support for primary challenges.

Republican voters overcame enormous odds to gain control of the Senate and the White House. They did so in large part because they know a liberal Supreme Court will likely end the Republic as they know it.

A failure by Senate Republicans to follow through would send a very dangerous message to millions of Americans that peaceful, lawful victories at the ballot box can do nothing to reverse the nation’s leftward drift and decay. Senate Republicans need to be told in no uncertain terms that if they won’t go nuclear in response to Democratic filibusters of Supreme Court nominees, their voters will when the next primary election rolls around.

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Matthew Monforton

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