As Samuel Johnson did not say but might have, there is nothing like a Supreme Court vacancy to concentrate the mind. The death of Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has forced us all to focus on a question that had already been raised, viz. who will get to appoint perhaps as many as three justices in the next presidential term? In light of the impossibility in the near term of taking back the House, this is probably the most important question of domestic policy before us in this election cycle.
There is no reason, so far as I can see, to distinguish Clinton's probable High Court appointees from those of Sanders, so we are left with the question of electability. I have said here before that I think which of the Democratic candidates is more electable depends on who gets the Republican nomination. I have also said that I think Clinton would do better than Sanders against anyone but Trump, and that I suspect Sanders would do better against Trump, but I am no longer convinced of this guess. Let me explain my current thinking, for anyone who might be interested.
Sanders appeals to the young and would, I believe, mobilize them to turn out, which is crucial for his chances. I also think he would steal away some of Trump's working-class non-college educated White male supporters, which could make an enormous difference in the general election. Trump will attack Sanders as a communist [he has already started to do so], but my instinct is that that charge will simply have no resonance with today's electorate. The imminence of Trump's nomination might bring Bloomberg into the field, which, I think, would ensure the election of Sanders.
I have been assuming that Clinton would crush the women's vote in all age categories, ensuring her election against virtually any Republican save Trump, but her performance thus far is giving me doubts. She seems to me not to be a good campaigner, despite her many strengths, such as her manifest knowledge and intelligence. I also think she would be extremely vulnerable to the sorts of shrewd unprincipled personal attacks that are Trump's specialty.
Will Trump get the nomination? On December 22nd I laid out my analysis of the race, based on the details of delegate allocation to be found in the Green Papers [Google it] and the assumption that Trump gets 35-40% of the vote pretty generally. The key question is the reliability of the polls. In the first primary, in New Hampshire, the polls were spot on for Trump. If they prove accurate for him next Saturday in South Carolina, I am going to assume that they will continue to be accurate going forward, and that he will win the nomination. The jumble below him -- Rubio rising, Rubio falling, Rubio being re-born, Kasich rising, Bush calling in the entire family -- seems to ensure that no one Establishment candidate will emerge any time soon, which simply improves Trump's chances.
Meanwhile, we must all pray that Obama does not do something stupid, like tacking far to the right for a High Court nominee who might, in his dreams, win confirmation. In light of the time it took him to notice that the Republicans were not interested in compromise, I am not at all confident about this.