Elections have consequences.
That will be on stark display in the days, weeks and perhaps months ahead as President Donald Trump, Congress and the nation battle over the replacement for retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.
We speak to Democrats today because our government is out of whack. At a time when Republicans control two branches of government and are about to lock up the third, there is a desperate need to politically rebalance the nation — to return to a centrist equilibrium.
For left-leaning Democrats, that means remembering that political purity must not become the enemy of party survival. And for California Democrats, that means remembering that the rest of the nation isn’t like the Left Coast.
We are at a moment where issues once thought resolved — none more so than abortion rights — are potentially back in play with Trump’s second nomination to the Supreme Court.
Kennedy has repeatedly been the swing vote on the high court, providing liberals victories on abortion access, same-sex marriage, the environment and limits on capital punishment. And backing conservatives on gun rights, unlimited campaign spending and Trump’s travel ban.
With Kennedy gone, Trump’s nominee will almost certainly cement the conservative majority. And looming in the background is the question of how much longer liberal, 85-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will stick around — how much longer until Trump has yet another pick.
Democrats will cry foul. They will rightfully point out that President Obama two years ago was denied even a hearing on his nominee, Merrick Garland, to replace the late-Justice Antonin Scalia.
They are correct that if the no-hearings-in-an-election-year standard was appropriate in 2016, it should be the standard again today. The fact is that it wasn’t right then and it isn’t right now — but the same rules should apply in both cases.
Democrats will also protest that Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, won confirmation only because Senate Republicans changed the rules — invoking the “nuclear option” that eliminated the 60-vote requirement to stop filibusters. Again, Democrats will be right and justified in their anger — but it doesn’t politically matter.
Most of the nation doesn’t care. It’s “inside baseball” that’s irrelevant to most voters. In the end, it’s elections that matter. The 2016 election — for president, the House and the Senate — allowed the GOP to take complete control of government.
Yes, Trump won the presidency without a majority of the vote because of the Electoral College system. But that’s the presidential election system set out in our Constitution.
And Democrats will legitimately complain that Republicans control the House in part because of highly partisan gerrymandering that the Supreme Court failed to correct in this last term.
Democratic voters have a choice. They can complain about the rules, refuse to play, and take their ball and go home. But that will merely ensure further conservative control of the nation.
Democrats can waste their time hoping for impeachment of the president, personally attacking him and his people, and fighting a campaign based solely on culture wars. And they will lose again.
Or they can recognize that they must find a way to appeal — with message and candidates — not only to the left-wing, blue-state base of their party but also to the centrist working-class voters in swing states.
To Democratic voters, the choice should be clear: Stay home on Election Day and sulk that your candidate (think Bernie Sanders) didn’t win the primary, or get out and vote.
Remember, your candidate might not be perfect — and Hillary Clinton certainly wasn’t — but the alternative could be worse. And the stakes have never been higher.