The average age of the Golden Girls during their final season was 66.75. The average age of Supreme Court Justices on Election Day 2016 will be 70.67.
When our 45th president is sworn in, three Supreme Court justices—Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg—will be more than 80 years old. Another, Stephen Breyer, will be 78 and a half, months shy of 78.7, the court’s average retirement age since the early 1970s. Before the end of the next president’s first term, Scalia and Kennedy will pass the life expectancy for an American male, 84.3, and Ginsburg will exceed that milestone for a female, 86.6. Breyer will hit his “best if used by” date soon thereafter.
The next presidential election, the most important of our lifetime, will likely decide who controls the Supreme Court for decades. And if conservatives win the White House, they’ll have the power of the nation’s highest court to go along with both houses of Congress and more state legislative seats than at any time since before the Great Depression.
With the twin and interrelated crises of climate change and income inequality both reaching points where the damage may become irreversible, Republicans — who are pushing agendas that promise to speed up both of these slow-motion calamities — are on the verge of nearly unprecedented political power.
And this week they finally acted as if they actually understand this.
While the GOP teeters on the verge of an unraveling of the coalition that was birthed by the Southern Strategy and then entrenched by the backlash politics of guns and abortion, its leaders recognize that if they can hold it together they have a damned good chance of achieving the dream: a Supreme Court that acts as an arm of the Republican National Committee.
Democrats haven’t held the White House for three straight terms in the last half century — even though Al Gore actually won the election in 2000. And the chances of the longest stretch of private sector job growth continuing unabated through next fall are slight. All Republicans need to do is nominate a feasible candidate and they’ll have a decent chance of winning, given the billions — yes, billions — of dollars that will be spent on their behalf.
Here’s how Republicans showed they are serious about winning this week — and why Democrats need to take this threat so seriously.
1. They pulled the gun away from their own head.
Last week at this time, Tea Party Republicans who’d unseated two straight “establishment” Speakers of the House seemed on the verge of wresting control of the agenda and driving the U.S. economy straight into a catastrophic default, for which conservatives would have surely suffered the bulk of the blame. Meanwhile, the party’s real power brokers were meeting with Democrats and forging a deal that would extend the debt limit for two years. The agreement — which pained partisans on both sides of this divided government — passed both houses easily and is now law. There’s still a small but non-negligible chance the government will shut down anyway over an issue that could end up haunting Republicans — like Planned Parenthood. But the party leaders have effectively pulled the gun away from their own head by relenting, on the debt, so they won’t purposely destroy the U.S. economy 12 months before a presidential election.
2. They backed a leader who pleases their donors.
Republican donors love Paul Ryan. That’s how he ended up as Mitt Romney’s running mate. That’s why he’s now the Speaker of the House. What’s not to love about a handsome, articulate Ayn Rand fan who believes we must gut our social safety net to achieve our nation’s highest good — tax breaks for the rich? Ryan handily won the Speakership and as the House passed raised the debt limit without any of the benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid that the House Freedom Caucus demanded. This smooth transfer of power makes the case that Speaker Boehner’s retirement was the last of many savvy efforts to defuse his party’s worst instincts. Ryan is vowing to run a different kind of Speakership and his passion for gutting government has bought him a lot of good will — perhaps even enough to keep his caucus from destroying his party’s chances in 2016.
3. They united against a common enemy.
Can you see it on Glenn Beck’s chalkboard? MSNBC > NBC> CNBC!!! The right’s case against the CNBC debate began the week before Wednesday’s debate when moderator John Harwood wrote an article that pointed out that the U.S. economy isn’t great — but it’s the best in the world and exponentially better than the economy Obama inherited. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is playing this year’s John Huntsman, opened the debate by attacking his opponents as unqualified to be president. That outburst was quickly erased from history by candidate after candidate mendaciously attacking the media and moderators — with Jeb Bush gazing on, dully wondering what happened to the Republican Party that used to just hand out nominations to Bushes like candy corn. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus quickly tried to deflect criticism from his party’s base by suspending a future debate with NBC. And the Republican Party was, for the first time in this primary, united. If there’s one thing conservatives know for sure, it’s the media is biased because they heard it on Fox News. While this debate was far from perfect, it was time the media focused on the details of the Republicans’ insane tax plans — and the right is trying to send the media a message in response: Don’t dare do that!
4. They’re trying to make Jeb Bush go away.
Being named Bush is enough to make a candidate unpopular, but Jeb’s real problem is that he’s not enough like his brother for the GOP base. He seems to have as much contempt for the party’s faithful as he does for President Obama. And he manages to talk about his brother’s legacy in a way that continually reveals the weakness and delusion in the Republican mindset. He’s the worst of all worlds. Still, Republicans tend to nominate the most viable candidate. Bush’s ability to appeal to Latino voters — with his fluent Spanish and Mexican-American family — is significantly better than many of his competitors, and the party hasn’t won without a Bush on the ticket since 1972. Yet fear that the party will eventually be stuck with Jeb and the Bush legacy has some of the party’s biggest movers trying to push another establishment candidate forward.
5. They’re desperately trying to make Marco Rubio happen.
Marco Rubio is against abortion even in cases of rape and incest. Even when the fetus isn’t viable. Even when birth threatens the life of the mother. This is an opinion shared by about two of 10 Americans, and by no Republican who has ever won the presidency. He opposes same-sex marriage. His foreign policy is more Cheney-like than Bush-like. His one legislative accomplishment was helping Republicans feel good about killing his immigration bill. Nevertheless, Rubio is very good on TV. Very good. Republicans think he’s their Obama. Democrats think he’s their John Edwards. Regardless, his youth and looks play well and invoke a narrative of change. That’s a narrative desired by conservative donors, which is why one of the largest funders came out for Florida’s junior senator this weekend. Now we’ll see whether primary voters ever bite.
The spoils of the 2016 election are too big to trust with Tea Partiers. Republican donors sent a message this week: We’re going to do whatever we can to win — and if Democrats don’t take that seriously, the consequences will last longer than a million Ted Cruz filibusters.
Illustration: DonkeyHotey via Flickr