It depresses me (if it is even possible for me to become more depressed -- yup, turns out it is) that we have to immediately turn to the political implications of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death and the ensuing confirmation fight over her replacement. But we do. And, more depressing still, I think the beneficiary of this development on a political level is Donald Trump. Why? Three reasons:
- Historically, Republicans are more motivated by judicial battles than are Democrats. That gap might be narrowing, but it's not clear it's disappeared. But while this is the factor everyone cites, it's actually the smallest factor in my analysis.
- A Supreme Court fight is a "normal" political controversy, and Trump is helped any time politics feels like a "normal" Democrat vs. Republican fight compared to extraordinary events that are unique to him and/or 2020 -- most notably, the coronavirus debacle. Ginsburg's death is one of the few things that can muscle coronavirus out of the headlines not just for a day but for a sustained period of time.
- Ginsburg's death is a political shock, and that automatically benefits Trump given that he's ran consistently behind in the polls. Why? Think of it this way: suppose the Supreme Court fight has an equal chance of either causing Trump to gain or lose five points in the polls. The former puts him ahead of Biden. The latter -- well, a loss is a loss: there's no tangible difference between Trump losing by a small margin and him losing by a large margin. So really, it's a 50% chance of it helping Trump and a 50% chance of it making no difference -- which is to say, it averages out to helping Trump. Given the remarkable stability in Trump's polling averages, he might be willing to take the chance on a shock even if the odds it benefited him were less than 50% (this is why I briefly contemplated the possibility of Trump doing something truly wild to shake up the polls if he was lagging far behind, like tapping Tulsi Gabbard as his new VP). And again, I think the baseline odds that this benefits Trump are at least 50% if not higher.