So which Senate Republican do you find most irritating? Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell or Mitt Romney?
I know there are lots of other contenders, but let’s stick with the men of the moment — the three stars of the Supreme Court follies! All famous for keeping their word except when it involves, you know, something they really want.
All currently supporting Donald Trump’s plan to get a new Supreme Court justice in place before the election. That’s just a little over a month, and far less time than it would normally take Congress to modify the rules on mackerel importation.
Of course, they all found it totally, deeply unacceptable when Barack Obama nominated a Supreme Court justice during his last year in office. McConnell, in fact, hated the idea of a Democratic president nominating judges at all. He dragged his feet so successfully that when Trump entered the White House, McConnell was able to go into a legislative closet somewhere and gift him with 105 moldering judicial vacancies. Probably the greatest achievement of the Senate majority leader’s career. Nothing Mitch cares about more than keeping Democrats off the court benches.
McConnell’s absolute pinnacle was keeping Merrick Garland off the Supreme Court. Who did Obama think he was, trying to put a nominee on the highest court of the land less than a year before he was scheduled to leave office? Totally unacceptable.
Yeah, said Graham and Romney. Totally unacceptable. And in no way related to Trump’s decision to nominate a replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsburg as he was racing toward the end of his reelection campaign.
Romney likes to present himself as the righteous, stiff-spined defender of bipartisan principles. It is possible some of this backbone has to do with the fact that he is a very wealthy 73-year-old with a very safe Senate seat. But everybody remembers how he dared stand up as the only Republican senator voting to convict Trump on an impeachment charge.
He argued then that Trump lacked the moral stature necessary to run the government. However, he decided this week that Trump had more than enough spiritual wisdom to nominate a judge-for-life for the most critical court in the nation.
In the uproar that followed, Romney seemed very surprised that anybody was questioning his judgment. After all, he was a former presidential nominee himself with terrific conservative creds, not to mention a terrific record for consistency.
We will pause here just for a moment to recall that Romney ran for governor of Massachusetts on a pro-choice platform, then ran for president as “proud to be pro-life.” His explanation that he did not formerly understand what an embryo was is one of my favorite Mitt stories. Second only to the time he drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car.
Now, when Mitt voted to convict Trump I swore I’d never bring up the dog again. But a person has the right to change her mind, right?
Or would you prefer to present the blue ribbon for irritation to Lindsey Graham? He’s chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, so we’ll probably see a whole lot of him during this court appointment fight. Which is wonderful, since I know there is nothing you like better than listening to Graham sound sincere.
“I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination,” he said when he was trying to help McConnell ditch Garland.
Well, sure. All together now: Lindsey Graham said let the next president make the Supreme Court nomination. Until ... he didn’t.
Graham is one of Trump’s regular golfing partners. He has a long history of hanging out with the top dogs — he was a permanent fixture on John McCain’s campaign bus when McCain ran for president in 2008. He visited the Obama White House a lot. His initial relationship with Trump was rather rocky — Graham, who made a deeply unsuccessful try for the White House himself in 2016, called the future president a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.”
He also said that if Trump got the Republican nomination, “we will get destroyed ... and we will deserve it.”
And, hey, he said Joe Biden was “as good a man as God ever created.”
But who’s keeping track? Well, Graham is running for reelection against Democrat Jaime Harrison, and apparently he now believes his winning strategy is hanging on to Donald Trump for dear life. There’s speculation the Supreme Court dust-up might actually help him generate a little more enthusiasm. Maybe. (The Cook Political Report, which rates Senate races, recently downgraded Graham’s reelection chances from “likely” to “leaning.”)
But the little things mean a lot, and Graham is really good at tiptoeing carefully around White House minefields. Remember, when Trump was reported to have referred to American war dead as “losers,” Graham’s response was that he didn’t believe the president really said it. God knows Trump’s not the kind of guy to randomly blurt out weird or offensive comments.
And Romney has been dodging questions about how he will vote if the Senate does take up Trump’s new Supreme Court nominee. Which is certainly a smart approach, given the fact that for all we know, Trump could be planning to put up Roger Stone.
Gail Collins is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.