Political pundits, commentators, journalists, and the whole of left-leaning social media quickly accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Lindsey Graham of rank hypocrisy when they began the process of filling Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat within hours of news of her death — in direct opposition to what they said three years earlier.
But I would argue that the real hypocrite here is Senator and former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
In February of 2016, McConnell blocked President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland on the grounds that it was an election year, and so the American people should have a voice in who is appointed to the Supreme Court by means of whoever won the presidential election. Despite this, when Justice Ginsburg died on Friday, there was little doubt that McConnell and Senate Republicans would abandon their earlier position and try to install a new SCOTUS pick as soon as humanly possible.
Sure enough, a mere 89 minutes after news broke that Justice Ginsburg had died, McConnell released a statement expressing his intent to do just that, citing a justification as vague and baseless as the fabricated reasoning he used to block Obama’s appointment in the first place. Not that he really cares if you believe his crock anyway. Graham, true to form, immediately tweeted support of Trump’s judicial nominee, regardless of the now widely circulated video of the Senator saying not two years prior that he would not vote on a new Justice if a seat became available during an election year and that “you can use my words against me.”
Democrats needed four Republican Senators to cross the party line and stand by principle and the previously established rule in not supporting a vote for a new Justice so close to the election. Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska were the first to do so, and the left had great hopes that Senator Romney, who has earned a reputation for integrity and conscience for his opposition to the president and blind party loyalty, would soon join them.
The Utah Senator dashed those hopes on Tuesday when he announced that he agreed with McConnell’s circular and frankly nonsensical justification for the 180-degree pivot.
McConnell and Graham are liars and cheats and everyone knows they are liars and cheats, which they seem perfectly fine with. Romney, on the other hand — well, I’m ashamed to admit Romney almost had me fooled.
Romney plays at integrity, decency, and morality — but this theoretical backbone apparently only extends so far. He's anti-Trump, but he has not endorsed Joe Biden. He says Black Lives Matter, but is tellingly quiet on women's rights or LGBTQ rights. He voted to convict on impeachment, alone among his Republican colleagues, but has stated he'll vote for Trump's SCOTUS pick.
Other Republicans were always going to press their advantage with feckless disregard for norms or even public opinion just as long as they could win. It’s not hypocritical of McConnell and Graham to go back on their word because they are, in fact, doing exactly what they always said they intended to do.
There is enough footage of Graham pre-2016 saying exactly the opposite of what he does now for a feature-length film, so the cat’s out of the bag on any integrity he may have once claimed to possess. McConnell’s personal stated goal has always been to fill the courts with conservatives and in fact in 2019 when asked what he would do in the case of a vacancy during the last year of Trump’s first term he said, “Oh, we’d fill it.”
But I think Romney actually believes his own press, and he tried to make the rest of us believe it too. Romney, who is historically “pro-life” but has avoided the most extreme anti-abortion positions espoused by some in his party, said in March of this year that the times he voted against his conscience in the name of political expediency still “haunt” him.
Is that why he abandoned principle when he saw the opportunity to install a Justice on the Supreme Court who would seek to overturn Roe v. Wade, as Trump has vowed to do? Perhaps Romney believes it is his conscience telling him to seize this opportunity to outlaw abortion in the United States, regardless of established norms. But this would be the definition of dirty politics; the definition of sidestepping the rules in the name of political expediency; the definition of undermining the democratic process in order to advance a personal goal.
Romney knows perfectly well that McConnell’s justification for voting on a SCOTUS appointment now is absurd. But it seems he would rather be assured of a 6-3 conservative majority on the bench than stand by established protocol. Whatever brownie points Romney earned for his continual and outspoken condemnation of Trump evaporate every day he fails to put his money where his mouth is and endorse Joe Biden.
McConnell and Graham are snakes but not hypocrites. It is Romney, who shields cowardice and self-dealing beneath a veneer of righteousness and strength, who is the true hypocrite.