The full political impact of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death on Friday and Donald Trump’s rush to fill her Supreme Court seat has yet to emerge. But if you don’t think these events have the potential to energize Democrats to possibly record election turnouts in November, you probably haven’t seen what’s going in the Democratic base.
Here are two facts every discussion on this topic must include – as I’ve heard firsthand from listeners who call my nightly SiriusXM radio show. One, how much Trump is utterly despised by Democrats. Two, how much that same base loves Ginsburg, a global icon affectionately referred to as RBG.
The Democratic response so far should terrify Trump and GOP Senate candidates up for election this year. Democrats have already begun channeling their pain at losing RBG into action, pouring a record-breaking number of donations to Democratic candidates and causes via the online fundraising platform ActBlue. The New York Times reported that from about 9 p.m. ET Friday – about 90 minutes after RBG’s death was announced – ActBlue reported receiving $6.2 million in donations, the most ever in just one hour in the platform’s 16-year history. That record was broken the following hour when $6.3 million was donated, more than $100,000 per minute.
Saturday, after Trump announced he would be nominating a candidate for RBG’s seat this week, ActBlue raised another $70.6 million dollars from 1.2 million contributors. All told in the 28 hours after RBG’s death, ActBlue reported receiving $100 million in donations for Democrats. (I can’t find any reports of an upsurge in GOP fundraising since Friday.) For perspective, Trump and the Republican National Committee raised $210 million in the full month of August. Biden and the Democratic National Committee raised $364.5 million in the same period.
These donations might come as a surprise to Republican leaders since it’s typically their base that is more motivated by the issue of filling seats on the nation’s highest court. A July 2016 Pew poll found 70% of Trump supporters said Supreme Court appointments were “very important” to them compared to 62% of Hillary Clinton supporters.
On a personal note, when I campaigned for Clinton at several events in 2016, I can’t tell you how often eyes glazed over when I spoke of the need to win in 2016 so a Democratic president could fill the Supreme Court seat left open by the February death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. This issue simply didn’t seem to energize Democrats.
That changed with Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court in July 2018, when Republicans confirmed him despite allegations of sexual assault and misconduct against women. (Kavanaugh has denied the allegations.) A little over four months later, Democrats won control of the House with the biggest-ever margin of victory in total votes cast in a midterm election.
While it’s difficult to quantify precisely how much the Kavanaugh controversy played a role in this result, there are signs that it pushed some voters away from Republicans. A CBS/YouGov poll ahead of the midterms found that Democratic candidates for Senate were doing better among new voters who reported being energized by Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
If those were the numbers generated by voters signaling to the GOP they were unhappy with Kavanaugh’s confirmation, how do you think they will respond to Trump rushing to replace the beloved RBG with likely a hard-line right-wing justice? Adding to the outrage for Democrats is the hypocrisy of GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell vowing to vote on Trump’s expected nominee while not allowing President Barack Obama to fill Scalia’s seat in 2016 because, in a presidential election year, said McConnell, “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice.”
RBG’s dying words to her granddaughter were that “my most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
Instead, her seat now seems set to be filled by Trump, a man whom RBG uncharacteristically publicly criticized during the 2016 campaign as an inconsistent “faker” who had “gotten away with not turning over his tax returns.” In response, Trump slammed her on Twitter, writing her comments were “very dumb” and an embarrassment the court, adding, “Her mind is shot - resign!” (RBG later apologized for her remarks; Trump, of course, has not.)
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And while I can’t speak for others, my blood was boiling watching Trump at his rally Saturday already using RBG’s death as the source for a new campaign chant, with his supporters screaming out in unison, “Fill that seat!”
The polls between Trump and Joe Biden might not move right away to reflect Trump and the Senate GOP’s hypocritical push to fill RBG’s seat before a possible Biden administration takes office next year. But the impact will likely be felt in terms of the intensity of the supporters on each side. So far, the evidence shows that voters want to honor RBG’s legacy by supporting Democrats to defeat Trump and his GOP enablers. For now, those donors seem to be winning the day – big time.