Romney’s decision comes two days after retiring Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander announced that he supported a vote on Trump’s eventual nominee before the election, eliminating perhaps the single most likely GOPer to join Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine in opposition to confirming a Supreme Court justice this close to a presidential election. Then, on Monday, Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who is an underdog for a second term this November, said that he too backed a vote before the election. As did Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa who had, in the past, expressed significant reservations about trying to confirm a justice in the waning days of an election.
And with those critical dominoes, any experienced vote-counter can see the writing on the wall: This nomination is going to go through — and McConnell is going to win.
Murkowski and Collins are two. McConnell actually could have afforded to lose Romney’s vote and still get the nominee through. Now that he has Romney in the fold, McConnell has even more wiggle room — although he’s not likely to need it.
Yes, it’s never over until it’s over. And yes, there is a group of senators who haven’t announced their positions on the confirmation vote — most notably retiring Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts. Roberts, like Alexander, is a seen as part of the Republican old guard and someone who might worry about the precedent being set by trying to push a nominee through so close to an election. And without a reelection race ever again to worry about, Roberts can act on his conscience.
But with Romney and Alexander now backing McConnell, it’s extremely hard to believe that Roberts would come out in opposition to the vote — knowing that it wouldn’t change anything. A Roberts “no” on the eventual nominee still would leave McConnell with 50 “yes” votes — and the nominee would be confirmed. Why charge at that windmill if you are Roberts, a lifelong conservative with little interest in making news at the end of his career?
Like him or hate him, you have to hand it to McConnell. He has, again, proven that he commands the almost total loyalty of his GOP conference. As McConnell did with the contentious Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, who was confirmed by a 50-48 vote, he has demonstrated that when the pressure is on, he is able to line up votes like very few leaders before him.
And now, with the near-certain confirmation of fully one third of the court over the last four years, McConnell’s legacy is complete. He will go down as one of the most consequential Senate leaders in modern history, overseeing a massive ideological overhaul of the judiciary branch from the bottom all the way to the top. And there’s not a damn thing Democrats can do about it.