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Republican candidates really don't want President Obama to nominate a Supreme Court justice

President Barack Obama speaks on the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in Rancho Mirage, California, on Saturday.
President Barack Obama speaks on the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in Rancho Mirage, California, on Saturday.
(MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

After Justice Antonin Scalia died on Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the Supreme Court vacancy should not be filled until after the presidential election. Most of the GOP presidential candidates agreed with that position during the CBS debate.

The candidates' responses differed in details — Jeb Bush, for example, said that he'd be open to a "consensus candidate" before predicting that Obama wouldn't offer one — but none seemed to believe that an Obama nominee should ultimately wind up on the high court.

The candidates' responses suggest a hardening Republican position on the open Supreme Court seat. It's becoming clear that few in the GOP are willing to see President Obama choose the next Supreme Court justice — and potentially shift the Court to the left for a generation.

Republican candidates: Obama shouldn't bother nominating anyone

"I do not believe the president should appoint someone," Sen. Marco Rubio said. "It's been over 80 years since a lame-duck president has appointed a Supreme Court justice."

Sen. Ted Cruz had a similar reaction — one he was called out for by CBS moderator John Dickerson. "We have 80 years of precedent of not confirming Supreme Court justices in an election year," Cruz said. Dickerson pointed out that that wasn't quite true — Justice Anthony Kennedy was nominated by Ronald Reagan in 1987 and confirmed in 1988.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich began by ducking the question — "If I were president, we wouldn't have the divisions in the country we have today" — and then seemed to suggest Obama could nominate someone with "unanimous approval."

But Kasich, too, ended up by concluding that Obama shouldn't nominate someone for the Supreme Court vacancy. "I believe the president should not move forward," Kasich said.

Ben Carson's response was harder to parse. Like Kasich, he started responding to the Supreme Court question by talking about the negative reaction by some to Scalia's death, and said "we should be thinking about how can we create some healing in this land."

However, Carson also finished by saying Republicans should oppose Obama's choice. "I fully agree that we should not allow a judge to be appointed during his time," Carson said.

Donald Trump acknowledged that President Obama could nominate someone — but ultimately also came down on the side of a blanket rejection of Obama's choice.

"I think he is going to do it whether I'm okay with it or not," Trump said. "It's up to Mitch McConnell and everybody else to stop it. It's called delay, delay, delay."

Jeb Bush expressed what may have been the greatest willingness among the candidates to at least wait and see whom Obama nominates.

Whereas many of the other Republican presidential candidates suggested Obama should not move forward with any choice — regardless of who it is — Bush at least acknowledged that Obama could nominate a justice for the vacancy.

"Of course, the president, by the way, has every right to nominate Supreme Court justices," Bush said. "I'm an Article II guy on the Constitution."

Bush went on to say that Obama should find a nominee with a "consensus orientation," and that he didn't expect the president to choose such a justice. "There's no doubt in my mind that Barack Obama will not have a consensus pick," Bush said.

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