Mitch McConnell’s gamble is about to pay off — big time

In my lifetime, I’ve never seen a politician place a more consequential wager (and win) than the one Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBill Kristol resurfaces video of Pence calling Obama executive action on immigration a 'profound mistake' Winners and losers in the border security deal House passes border deal, setting up Trump to declare emergency MORE (R-Ky.) did in 2016.

After Justice Antonin Scalia passed away that February, President Obama swiftly nominated Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandGOP advances rules change to speed up confirmation of Trump nominees New battle lines in war over Trump’s judicial picks Mitch McConnell has shown the nation his version of power grab MORE to take his place on the Supreme Court. Scalia, a solid conservative, would be replaced by a progressive, and the makeup of the Court would be decisively shifted in the left’s favor. The media and progressive activists lauded Garland’s credentials and urged McConnell to confirm him immediately.

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McConnell understood that he had a choice to make. In Article II of the Constitution, the Senate is granted the authority to provide “advice and consent” to the president on judicial nominations. Perhaps in a slight to Senator Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidKlobuchar: 'I don't remember' conversation with Reid over alleged staff mistreatment Dems wary of killing off filibuster Reid praises Warren, stops short of endorsement MORE, who had eliminated the judicial filibuster for non-Supreme Court judicial nominees in 2013 and made the process much more partisan, McConnell decided to strip Obama of the Senate’s “consent” and hold off on considering a Supreme Court nominee until after the presidential election.

 

McConnell drew fire from the media and outrage among pundits and activists on the left, but he held the line knowing the future of the Supreme Court and the outcome of a number of issues conservatives cared deeply about, such as abortion, guns, and free speech hung in the balance. His resolve helped drive incredible turnout among a Republican base that understood the election’s considerably high stakes. And based on exit polling, it is not an overstatement to say that McConnell’s decision to delay filling Scalia’s seat was a deciding factor in the election of President TrumpDonald John TrumpBill Kristol resurfaces video of Pence calling Obama executive action on immigration a 'profound mistake' ACLU says planned national emergency declaration is 'clear abuse of presidential power' O'Rourke says he'd 'absolutely' take down border wall near El Paso if he could MORE.

Republicans tend to be risk-averse in politics, which is why McConnell’s wager was so impressive. He certainly took a big risk. Had Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonO’Rourke heading to Wisconsin amid 2020 speculation The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers scramble as shutdown deadline nears Exclusive: Biden almost certain to enter 2020 race MORE won, with Justice Kennedy closing in on retirement and the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees hanging by a thread, we would likely now have a 6-3 court in the progressives’ favor, locking in the left’s domination of the judicial branch for at least a generation. Instead, thanks to McConnell’s bold stand, a solid 5-4 conservative-majority Supreme Court is now within reach. The significance of this difference cannot be overstated.

We saw over the last few days why controlling the Supreme Court is so important. Every branch of conservatism was rewarded with major decisions. Social conservatives gained an important victory in NIFLA v. Becerra, which protected the free speech rights of pro-life crisis pregnancy centers. Immigration and national security hawks cheered the Court’s ruling in Trump v. Hawaii, which upheld the administration’s travel ban. And limited government conservatives were no doubt pleased with the result of Janus v. AFSCME, which blunted the power of public sector unions, arguably the largest promoter of big government policies in the country.

Now, with Justice Kennedy retiring and with President Trump having a second opportunity to pick a Supreme Court justice, these decisions may represent just the first conservative victories of many more to come, as long as Republicans again hold the line and stand strong against pressure from the Democrats and the media.

McConnell and Senate Republicans should pay no heed to Democrats who are hypocritically arguing in favor of “precedent” and “norms” that Republicans should wait until after the election to consider a new Supreme Court appointment. Democrats already showed in 2013 they care little about “precedent” when they obliterated the norms surrounding lower court nominations. If the roles were reversed, Democrats would undoubtedly nominate and confirm the most progressive Supreme Court Justice possible as quickly as possible. As President Obama once infamously told Republican leadership, “Elections have consequences.”

President Trump has the opportunity to cement an incredible legacy when it comes to Supreme Court appointments. He could be the president who is ultimately responsible for overturning (or at least severely weakening) Roe v. Wade as well as restoring a strong respect for our Constitution to the judicial system. And the effects of this change to the Court could very well resonate many decades or more into the future. But let the history books show: none of this would have been possible if not for Mitch McConnell and his courageous 2016 gamble.

Frank Cannon is the president at American Principles Project. Follow him on Twitter @FrankCannonAPP.