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In Death, Scalia May Succeed in Blocking Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during the CBS News Republican Presidential Debate in Greenville, South Carolina, February 13, 2016.  / AFP / JIM WATSON        (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Social conservatives dare to hope Scalia’s death will sober up those Republicans willing to ignore Trump’s lack of discernible core principles. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Conservatives now have yet another reason to revere Antonin Scalia: In death, he just may keep Donald Trump from becoming the GOP nominee.

In every presidential election I can remember, both major parties have issued two warnings: This is the most important election of our lifetime. And it will decide the balance of the Supreme Court for decades to come.

Columnists-Bug-Web-HENNEBERGER Now, that last part is finally, irrefutably true. And are Republicans really going to trust a guy who was pro-choice until a minute ago to appoint Scalia’s successor? Will they pick someone who still speaks highly of Planned Parenthood to replace the justice who called a buffer zone outside clinics “merely the latest of many aggressively pro-abortion novelties announced by the court in recent years”? Scalia himself might dismiss that possibility as “pure applesauce.”

In such a closely divided country, Republicans know they can’t win without the social conservatives who have for months been Trump’s fiercest critics on the right.

A number of pro-life groups sent a letter to Iowans before the caucuses there, explicitly “urging Republican caucus-goers and voters to support anyone but Donald Trump.”

“On the issue of defending unborn children and protecting women from the violence of abortion, Mr. Trump cannot be trusted,’’ said the letter, which was signed by leaders of the Iowa Right to Life, the Susan B. Anthony List and Concerned Women for America, among other groups. “We have come to this conclusion after having listened patiently to numerous debates and news reports, but most importantly to Donald Trump’s own words…

“Mr. Trump has said his sister, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, who struck down the Partial Birth Abortion Ban in New Jersey, would be a ‘phenomenal’ choice for the court. Earlier this month, Mr. Trump also said he thought pro-choice Senator Scott Brown would make a ‘very good’ Vice President.

“Moreover, as women, we are disgusted by Mr. Trump’s treatment of individuals, women, in particular. He has impugned the dignity of women, most notably Megyn Kelly, he mocked and bullied Carly Fiorina, and has through the years made disparaging public comments to and about many women. Further, Mr. Trump has profited from the exploitation of women in his Atlantic City casino hotel, which boasted of the first strip club casino in the country.”

Trump has since clarified that he was just joshing when he floated his sister’s name, but conservatives really aren’t kidding when they joke darkly that he might try to name fellow reality TV star Judge Judy; after all, as the highest paid performer on television, wouldn’t the biggest paycheck make her the most phenomenal jurist in Trumpthink?

Social conservatives dare to hope Scalia’s death will sober up those Republicans willing to ignore Trump’s lack of discernible core principles.

But having initially underestimated his appeal, political commentators have now swung to the opposite extreme, and have become too skittish to posit that yes, blaming George W. Bush for 9/11 will lose him some support.

As may the unsettling spectacle of him screaming through much of a presidential debate in which he turned up looking oddly like an orange Brach’s Easter egg whose marshmallow insides were suggested every time his white hands came near his over-bronzed face. (And if you think such superficial concerns don’t matter, I refer you to Al Gore’s own orange debate, in which he could have been sighing deeply at the damage done by his makeup artist.)

One of the few areas of agreement at Saturday’s GOP debate, just hours after Scalia’s death was announced, was that his passing had finally focused the public on the reality that this time, the balance of the court really is on the line.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said Scalia’s unexpected death “underscores the stakes of this election. We are one justice away from a Supreme Court that will strike down every restriction on abortion adopted by the states. We are one justice away from a Supreme Court that will reverse the Heller decision, one of Justice Scalia’s seminal decisions that upheld the Second Amendment right to keep and to bear arms. We are one justice away from a Supreme Court that would undermine the religious liberty of millions of Americans.’’

The dreaded “establishment” in both parties has been struggling visibly over how to undercut improbable grassroots favorites without seeming to do so. As Hillary Clinton reportedly told Democrats reluctant to support John Kerry in 2004, “You don’t have to fall in love; you just have to fall in line.” This year, of course, falling in line has fallen into disrepute.

Yet in the end, neither the firebrand Bernard Sanders nor the billionaire populist Trump is likely to be nominated, for very different reasons. On the Democratic side, Hillary’s real firewall may be officialdom’s superdelegates. In the GOP, the candidate whose unified political theory really does boil down to a big plate of “jiggery pokery” may very well be stopped by the passing of the writer who resurrected that whimsical phrase.

Melinda Henneberger is the editor-in-chief of Roll Call. Contact her at Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.

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