In his latest column for National Journal, John Mercurio points out that President Obama's nomination of a new Supreme Court justice could mark the last event before the midterm elections around which Republicans can rally and unify. Mercurio writes:
No other event between now and the midterm elections (i.e., the unofficial kick-off of the 2012 presidential primary) will likely offer Republicans as much opportunity to unite the party behind one voice.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn, R-Texas, acknowledged as much this week. "Conservatives across the country understand how the court is sometimes used to overrule majority opinion," he told the National Law Journal. "So, this is something that I think is really a windfall for us leading up to the November elections. It's going to get people very energized."
With a few glaring exceptions, Supreme Court fights are more motivating to the right than the left, meaning it's more likely that the GOP will raise money and enthusiasm over a vacancy, regardless of how confrontational the pick is. The biggest resistance to George W. Bush's choice of Harriet Miers, for example, wasn't Democrats but conservative Republicans.
Aside from the Supreme Court pick, Democrats are eyeing financial reform as their most prominent agenda item. Energy reform has been on the table for some time, but it hasn't moved forward yet, and there have been recent stirrings about a push for immigration reform. Neither of those issues seem as good rallying points for the GOP as the SCOTUS pick.