Trump is trying to reset the 2020 campaign around the Supreme Court, whether the electorate wants it or not

  • The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg has opened up a new avenue for the Trump campaign heading into the home stretch of the 2020 election, with Democrats unable to do much of anything to prevent Republicans from naming a conservative justice to the Supreme Court.
  • An unnamed source even went so far as to tell CNN that Trump's SCOTUS pick will be the equivalent of a "new running mate."
  • Democratic nominee Joe Biden has largely hesitated from matching Trump's focus on the Supreme Court, as the former vice president continues to benefit from high marks among voters on his coronavirus response ideas.
  • The pick with the biggest upside for the Trump campaign might be Judge Barbara Lagoa, with her Cuban-American background offering an opportunity to run up the score among more conservative Latino voters in Florida, a group Biden has been struggling with.
  • However, a new Insider poll found only 52% of conservatives in favor of a Ginsburg replacement being confirmed before Election Day, with the greatest enthusiasm coming from among the most fervent conservatives in the GOP base.
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Following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Trump campaign is seizing on the potential to reshape the Supreme Court as its new central issue.

Over most of the summer, President Donald Trump vacillated between touting the economy, fearmongering over law and order, and trying to convince the electorate that the coronavirus was under control with a vaccine on the way.

The messaging was scattershot and often not backed up by facts, particularly the consistently high unemployment rate and the nation's mounting death toll from COVID-19 continuing to lead the world.

Yet at some point on Saturday, Trump will announce his pick to fill Ginsburg's seat and the confirmation process will be off to the races.

With the Republican majority Senate poised to take the nominee to a floor vote as soon as possible — which is all but inevitable now that the GOP defections have been limited to just two senators — the Trump campaign sees a lifeline as the president continues to trail Democratic nominee Joe Biden in battleground state polling.

Trying to close Biden's commanding lead among suburban women has long been a key priority for the Trump reelect operation, and touting a woman on the bench is the campaign's latest salvo.

CNN's Dana Bash caught attention online Tuesday with a tweet that cited an anonymous source who likened Trump's Supreme Court justice pick to his "new running mate."

The two favorites for Trump's nomination at this point — judges Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa — each present distinct campaign opportunities, albeit against the backdrop of the rather unprecedented nature of a president using a specific judge for campaign purposes.

Barrett has long been considered a rising star in the conservative legal world, and she was part of the conversation for both of Trump's previous two confirmations. 

She's a white Catholic, and the case could be made that marketing her in a sophisticated enough way could persuade some women voters who otherwise find themselves turned off by Trump's rhetoric but still want an anti-abortion justice.

There is not much empirical evidence to back that strategy up, however, especially compared to the opportunities Lagoa presents.

As a Cuban-American judge from Florida, Lagoa would be a major figure in representing a key voting bloc for Trump.

While Justice Sonya Sotomayor is the first Latina Supreme Court justice in US history, Lagoa would be a trailblazer for the more narrow demographic of socially conservative Latinos of Cuban descent in Florida.

Biden is not performing well with these voters, so Trump could use Lagoa's nomination as a way to boost turnout in a must-win state.

All of that said, the early polling shows that the Supreme Court is only a motivating turnout issue for the most fervent conservatives in Trump's base — a group already quite likely to vote. A new Insider poll showed just 52% of self-identified conservatives want Ginsburg's replacement to be confirmed before the election.

The other dynamic to bear in mind is the looming prospect of yet another external event, such as the financial crash of 2008, intervening to define the race. 

Biden continues to benefit from voters considering the coronavirus to be a top issue, and there is no proof yet that a Supreme Court vacancy will flip that dynamic with just a few weeks to go until Election Day.

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