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John McCain just did what his best friend in the Senate warned Republicans not to do

Sen. Lindsey Graham in March: “Watch what you say today. Because if she wins the people have spoken.”

McCain, Ayotte, Graham Discuss Accountability Review Board Report On Benghazi
Sen. Lindsey Graham basically foreshadowed the backlash from Sen. John McCain’s comments.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

In March, Sen. Lindsey Graham made David Axelrod privy to some advice he has for Senate Republicans on their refusal to approve Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

Here is the exchange on Axelrod’s podcast The Axe Files, recorded on Super Tuesday:

GRAHAM: Here’s what I tell Republicans. We all love the “let the people decide,” but what happens if [Hillary Clinton] wins? What happens if she wins and she sends over a liberal judge?

AXELROD: And you said a couple minutes ago that you think if it’s her and Trump, she will win.

GRAHAM: Yeah. I tell my Republicans colleagues watch what you say today. Because if she wins the people have spoken she chooses somebody liberal — which she will — who is qualified — which I am certain they will be — I am going to vote for them.

As Graham pointed out, Republican senators’ defense of refusing to approve Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court is simple: President Barack Obama is a lame-duck president, and the nomination should be up to the next president of the United States — an argument that Graham supports.

This week, it became apparent that Graham was foreshadowing the comments of Sen. John McCain — his good friend in the Senate and a fellow NeverTrump Republican — when McCain “promised” that Republicans will be “united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up.” (McCain’s office softened the stance later in the day, noting that of course McCain would “thoroughly examine” Clinton’s nominations, although she has a “clear record of supporting liberal judicial nominees.”)

McCain’s comments come in stark contrast to the argument Republicans have been making all along: that in an election year it should be up to the people to choose the president to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat — and that only then would they do their part and review the nomination.

Instead, McCain is directly stating something that the public has known all along — that the argument against Garland is not about democracy but ideology. But as my colleague Matthew Yglesias points out, that has more consequential implications:

What McCain is saying is very different: They are blocking him because he is a Democrat with ideological views that fit in line with the Democratic Party, whereas they are Republicans with different ideological views. This is in many ways a more sensible view — I wouldn’t want to vote for a Supreme Court nominee I disagreed with on important topics either — but it’s also one with more dramatic constitutional implications … McCain’s principle would produce a kind of mini-crisis in constitutional government, and the 4-4 split on the Supreme Court would prevent the resolution of other constitutional disputes. This kind of irresolvable conflict is, unfortunately, baked into America’s system of government — a system that really only works if the parties aren’t ideologically disciplined and polarized.

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