Senate Republicans are feeling the 'Trump effect'
© Getty Images

After the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCongress had a good couple of weeks — now let's keep it going McCarthy: 'The Mueller investigation has got to stop' McConnell: Mueller 'ought to wrap it up' MORE (R-Ky.) zipped in like the Flash to promise that the Senate would block President Obama's nominee.

Some conservative voters breathed a sigh of relief, but most are holding off until they actually see it happen. You see, in conservative circles, McConnell and the Senate Republicans are not renowned for their backbone.

But all of a sudden, he's as uncompromising as William Wallace, inspiring vacillators to stand with him and fight (sans the blue face paint).

So where did this Mitch McConnell 2.0 come from?

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpEx-ethics chief calls on Trump to end 'monstrous' migrant policies Laura Bush blasts Trump migrant policy as 'cruel' and 'immoral' US denies report of coalition airstrike on Syria MORE of course.

That's right, I’m giving the credit to Donald Trump. Even if he doesn't go on to win the GOP nomination (which I think he will), he's already changing the Republican party. He's garnered enough support from voters to scare the GOP straight. In Iowa, in New Hampshire and in the polls, voters have made the statement that they're done with the political class. 2010 didn't get the message across. 2014 didn't get the message across. Finally, Washington is hearing the people loud and clear.

It's not going to be easy for the Senate Republicans to stand strong on this, and some of them are cracking already. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) warned that they could "fall into the trap of being obstructionists."

The horror!

Tillis clearly doesn't understand what the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections were all about. Earth to Tillis: You were sent there to obstruct President Obama's agenda. If North Carolinians were onboard with Obama's agenda, they'd have sent Kay HaganKay Ruthven Hagan2020 Dems compete for top campaign operatives Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Politics is purple in North Carolina MORE (D) back to the Senate.

Sometimes I feel like America's political class needs a mass retaking of ninth-grade civics. When did the checks and balances in the Constitution become — dirty word alert — "obstructionism"? Article II clearly states, "He [the President] shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States."

The Senate's consent. In other words, permission. That is a legislative check on executive power. That's what the American people turned out in massive numbers during the midterm elections to do — place a check on executive power. Look at the New Hampshire exit polls, where 90 percent of Republicans do not have positive feelings about Washington. Ninety percent! And that's not because Obama is being obstructed.

Last month, when the president vetoed Congress's repeal of the Affordable Care Act, was that obstructionist? Sure. But well within the executive authority invested in him by the Constitution.

The Senate could give reasons for blocking Obama's nominees. They could say that a question on whether the president violated his oath of office with his executive action on illegal immigration will be in front of the court in April and it would be a conflict of interest for him to appoint a justice right now. They could say that a majority of Americans disapprove of the job he's doing, so it's more prudent to allow the next president to fill the vacancy. But they don't have to say anything. Under Article II, the president needs their permission, and they don't have to give it.

But the Senate Republicans will probably cave under the pressure. Unlike Obama, they lack the political courage to exercise their constitutional powers.

Hence, the attraction of Trump. Love him or hate him, the man has political courage pouring out of his ears. He doesn't even hold a political office and he's already a check on our legislative branch. If Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate rejects effort to boost Congress's national security oversight The Memo: Summit gives Trump political boost — with risks The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump, Kim make history with summit MORE (R-Fla.) or former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) were running away with the nomination, Senate Republicans would be ready to lie down in front of the executive steamroller. But right now, Trump is the one running away with the nomination. His popularity so invincible, he should have a red cape and an "S" on his chest — and the GOP establishment types are cowering.

The Senate Republicans didn't suddenly grow a collective steel-coated backbone. They're just more afraid of Trump's popularity than they are of the president.

If you still haven't gotten the memo on Donald Trump's popularity, here it is: policy specifics, conservative ideology, political experience and a perfect head of hair are all worthless if you lack the courage to govern.

Zipperer is assistant professor of political science at Georgia Military College.