Sandoval: The Silliest Trial Balloon Ever?

Today, numerous news sites reported breathlessly that President Obama is considering nominating Brian Sandoval, the Governor of Nevada–a Republican!–to the Supreme Court. The Washington Post led the charge:

The White House is considering picking the Republican governor from Nevada to fill the current vacancy on the Supreme Court, scrambling political calculations…

Political calculation is the only thing going on here.

…in what is expected to be a contentious confirmation battle in which Senate Republicans have pledged to play the role of roadblock.

President Obama is weighing the selection of Brian Sandoval, a centrist former federal judge who has served as governor since 2011, according to two people familiar with the process.

So the Post is doing the bidding of the White House in reporting that Obama is “considering” and “weighing” nominating Sandoval. The Post continues:

[E]ven the prospect of his nomination poses a difficult dilemma for Senate Republicans who have promised not to consider any nomination before November’s elections.

No, it doesn’t. Obama can “consider” and “weigh” all he wants, but the idea that this somehow puts pressure on Senate Republicans is a White House fantasy. Should Obama actually nominate Sandoval–which he won’t–the Republicans can do as they choose, either confirm him or not.

Their calculation is, of course, the mirror image of Obama’s. It depends on who will be the next president. If Obama believed that the next president will be a conservative Republican like Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz, it would make sense for him to first nominate a left-winger and then, after Senate Republicans refuse to confirm that nominee, default to a moderate. Maybe even a moderate Republican who agrees with Obama on key issues, like overturning Citizens United.

But Obama doesn’t think the next president will be Rubio or Cruz. He, like other Democrats, believes that the Republicans are in the process of committing suicide by nominating Donald Trump. He thinks Hillary Clinton will beat Trump, assuming she is not under indictment by November. Or, worst case, Trump will follow his sister’s advice, and his own political tendencies, and nominate a liberal or moderate to succeed Justice Scalia.

On that calculation, it makes no sense for Obama to nominate anyone who could possibly be confirmed, like Sandoval. The only logical course is to try to set up the Republicans to use their refusal to consider his nominee against them in the election. How best to do that? Pretend that he is “considering” and “weighing” the nomination of a moderate Republican.

My guess is that he will “weigh” and “consider” and “vet” for some months before doing anything, all the while whining about how he is being blocked by unreasonable Republicans. That will give him a chance to keep an eye on the polls and perhaps revert to Plan B if Hillary looks so weak that she can’t win.


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