It was interesting to watch Steve Kornacki trying to explain to Chris Matthews that the Democrats cannot prevent the Republicans from replacing Anthony Kennedy. Interesting — and familiar. In his tone, his vehemence, and his total unwillingness to look cold facts in the face, Matthews sounded like many Republicans did at points during the Obama administration. If the Democrats “don’t use everything they’ve got — if they don’t play hardball — I think they’re through,” Matthews said. “The Democrats have to fight this tooth and nail,” he insisted. “This,” he concluded, “is time for vengeance.” That there is nothing that Democrats can actually do seemed irrelevant.
We’ve seen this movie before, of course: It was exactly how many conservatives behaved a few years back. Building themselves into a frenzy — and encouraged by talk radio, cable news, and a handful of cynical politicians who promised what they couldn’t deliver — a lot of Republican primary voters decided that their party was failing to achieve its goals not because it had lost the White House, had a limited majority in the House, and was in the minority in the Senate, but because it didn’t “want” to enough, or because it wouldn’t “fight,” or because, secretly, it wanted the same things as did the Democrats. It is for this reason that the GOP’s failure to repeal Obamacare was held by so many to be a problem of the heart rather than a problem of the math.
The consequence of all this was that members of the “establishment” came to be held in contempt, while insurgents — insurgents who, of course, had no more magical powers than did the establishmentarians they were lambasting — were elevated to giddy heights. That Donald Trump is President of the United States is in part the result of these elevations.
If Matthews’s attitude comes to be more widely adopted on his side, one can imagine something similar happening within the Democratic party. The conventional wisdom holds that the Democrats are better than the Republicans at ensuring that the crazies don’t take over. But there are signs that this might be changing. Bernie Sanders came close to toppling Hillary Clinton in 2016; the victory of a socialist in New York’s 14th district has yielded an orgy of excitement within the more extreme corners of the progressive movement; and the party is on the verge of removing the “superdelegates” that act as a final check on the primary process. If the powers that be are held to be responsible for the appointment of a Justice they had no power to block, we could see a war on the Left that will make 2016 look like a cakewalk.