President Donald Trump demands loyalty, but isn’t so quick to return it. Republican members of Congress have passed his bills, rationalized his behavior, kept him in power. Now, with a new Supreme Court vacancy, some of the GOP senators who risked the most in tethering themselves to Trump sorely need his help keeping them in power. He isn't guaranteed to deliver.
Trump tweeted today that he’ll announce his nominee at the White House on Saturday, and he’s said that he wants a vote to take place before the November 3 election. That could spell trouble for swing-state Republican senators in tough reelection fights, such as Susan Collins of Maine and Cory Gardner of Colorado. They have one obvious lifeline: Voters could split their tickets, backing Joe Biden for president and supporting Republicans down-ballot. But Trump is making that prospect a lot less likely. A fierce confirmation fight over the conservative replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsburg may only reinforce purely partisan voting patterns.
Trump gives senators little space to carve out the sort of independent identity that might make ticket-splitting more realistic. As I’ve written before, his intolerance for apostates has been a pattern throughout his presidency; he won’t brook criticism from inside the party or out, even as handling of the pandemic and civil unrest has made his administration’s performance tougher to defend. Pushing a nominee through before Election Day poses perhaps the starkest test yet of Trump’s insistence on fidelity. He’s asking that senators cast one of the most polarizing votes imaginable, amid one of the most fraught races in modern history, on a timeline driven by a political clock.