The GOP could learn something from Kenny Rogers’s gambler

President Biden speaks during a National Governors Association meeting in the East Room of the White House on Monday, January 31, 2022.
UPI Photo

It’s on “a warm summer’s evening on a train bound for nowhere” that the gambler in Kenny Rogers’s classic song offers up some advice to a lonely stranger who is staring out the window into the darkness.

The gambler notices the desolate look on the stranger’s face. He sees that the man is “out of aces” and for a taste of his whiskey, he offers up some wisdom.

“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’’em; know when to walk away and know when to run,” he tells the stranger. 

It’s good advice for a gambler, but it’s also good advice for a politician.

Joe Biden will soon nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court of the United States, the first Black woman to ever serve on the high court. Let’s just say whomever he chooses wouldn’t be the first choice of any Republican senator who will be voting on the nomination. But like the stranger on the nighttime train, Republicans are “out of aces.” Biden’s nominee will get enough votes to win her seat on the court. Fighting a losing battle will get them nowhere. What good would the opposition do? It won’t change the outcome. 

Still, the reaction to Biden’s promise was swift and predictable from the usual suspects on the hard right. On Fox, Sean Hannity suggested it might be “unlawful” and “unconstitutional” to only consider a nominee of a specific race or gender. It’s neither. Tucker Carlson, disgusted with Biden’s promise, said why not go all out and nominate Bridgett Floyd, George Floyd’s sister, because “she is not a judge or a lawyer or whatever, but in this case, who cares? Clearly, that’s not the point anymore — this law stuff.” And a Republican U.S. senator, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, told a radio talk show host that the nominee will be the “beneficiary” of affirmative action and predicted that she “will probably not get a single Republican vote.”

I believe he’s wrong about that. At least a few moderate Republicans likely will vote for the nominee, if for no other reason than they understand that a president — any president — should have leeway in choosing a justice for the high court.

But a few GOP votes won’t be enough to fend off the allegations that are already coming from the left, allegations that Republicans are against the nominee for just one reason: because she’s a Black woman.  

This may not make a big difference by November, but come off to some moderate voters as needlessly obstructionist? Why feed into the liberal caricature of conservative Republicans — that they’re a bunch of old, white, male racists?

If it becomes obvious that the nominee isn’t a liberal, but rather a far left-wing ideologue who plans to cavalierly legislate from the bench instead of rule on matters of law, then, okay, vote against her. Principles matter. But what if she’s simply a liberal who doesn’t see things the way conservatives on and off the court see things? Even sensible Republicans know that’s not enough to vote “no” on the nomination. So, Republicans would do themselves a great big favor by coming off as statesmen and voting in support of Biden’s nominee.

Still, I wish that Biden hadn’t made the promise he made when he was running for president. We all would have been better off if he said nothing at the time and simply picked a Black woman when a vacancy came about. As George Washington University law professor and Fox News contributor Jonathan Turley noted, “He could have simply made clear that he wanted to add a black female to the Court and would make that a priority without promising that the first vacancy would be barred to other genders or races.”

Was candidate Biden pandering to a loyal segment of his base, Black women? Good chance. His pledge helped him secure the support of Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and to win South Carolina’s primary. But history is about to be made, and what good will it do Republicans if it looks like they’re trying to stand in the way of that history? 

One hundred thirteen justices have served on the Supreme Court — 107 of them have been white men. This is not a fight any sensible politician should want to wage.

There’s too much polarization in our culture, too much bickering. Biden was never going to pick someone the Republicans liked; everybody knows that. But Republicans in the Senate should play the hand they’ve been dealt. Be diplomatic. Be civil. Treat Biden’s nominee better than Democrats treated all three of Donald Trump’s nominees. And listen to the wisdom of the man on that train, who told the stranger that, “Every gambler knows that the secret to survivin’ is knowin’ what to throw away and knowin’ what to keep.”

Throw in the cards, my Republican friends. Biden has won this hand. But if you play it right, being gracious may help you pick up even more congressional seats in November than you otherwise would have — and I’m pretty sure more than you will if you turn the nomination into a nasty, ugly fight you can’t win.

Bernard Goldberg is an Emmy and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University award-winning writer and journalist. He was a correspondent with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” for 22 years and previously worked as a reporter for CBS News and as an analyst for Fox News. He is the author of five books and publishes exclusive weekly columns, audio commentaries and Q&As on his Patreon page. Follow him on Twitter @BernardGoldberg.

Tags Biden Supreme Court nominee Donald Trump Joe Biden Roger Wicker Sean Hannity Senate Republicans Tucker Carlson

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