Oct 27, 2020

Amy Coney Barrett gets confirmed.

Amy Coney Barrett gets confirmed.

Plus, do single-issue voters really exist?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 10 minutes.

Republicans complete their overhaul of the Supreme Court. Plus, are single-issue voters really a thing?

Amy Coney Barrett (right) and President Trump after she was nominated to the Supreme Court. Photo: White House

Tree of life.

Today marks exactly two years since the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history. As a Jew who went to college at the University of Pittsburgh, as someone with a dear friend who lost a family member in the shooting, I want to make note of this day. I remember exactly where I was when I got the text message about it. My stomach turned. It was a synagogue I had visited when I lived in Pittsburgh. There are few things worse in this world than seeing an attack like the one that happened there, but it’s made immeasurably worse when you realize how easily you or someone you love could have been a victim.

Political violence and hate crimes in America are not nearly as uncommon as we like to think. Nor are lone gunmen, almost always well-armed men, who enter public spaces to kill as many people as they can (and frequently target minorities). This violence speaks to a confluence of issues on the ground here in America: online extremism, mental health issues, an abundance of firearms and, perhaps most damningly, a total inability to pry people loose from the dangerous worldviews that typically accompany this violence.

In Judaism, there is a great deal of weight given to names. Jewish sages consider them to be prophetic. Rabbi Benjamin Blech says “your name is the key to your soul.” Many Jews believe the struggle to pick a name for your offspring is considered a “glimpse of Divine wisdom.” With that, I’d like to honor the memory of the victims of the Tree of Life shooting by sharing their names with you here: Bernice Simon, Cecil Rosenthal, Daniel Stein, David Rosenthal, Jerry Rabinowitz, Irving Younger, Joyce Fienberg, Melvin Wax, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger and Sylvan Simon. May their memories be a blessing.

You can read their stories here.

Reader feedback.

Several readers wrote in with responses to my decision not to make a formal endorsement in the election yesterday. Here are two opposing views.

Jordan from New York said he appreciated the decision not to endorse anyone. “I hoped you would *not* give an endorsement,” he wrote. “To me, the whole point of Tangle is for us readers to do a lot of the work and thinking ourselves. I try to read the entire newsletter every day, and I generally like the opinions and color you add, but I'd never want my time with Tangle to be only reading your opinions. An endorsement feels loftier than an opinion, it'd feel more like you trying to reach out into the world and dictate action in the form of votes. This edition was perfect, a roundup of notable endorsements and reminding the readers that the goal is for us to read and decide for ourselves.”

Joe from Kirkland, Washington, said “I understand why you don't want to make an endorsement, but you could have commented on the validity of the rationale provided by either side.  Not doing so perpetuates the false equivalency that was pervasive in 2016.  In 2016 the electorate widely believed that Clinton was just as dishonest as Trump, something that was clearly untrue based on the number of documented lies from each candidate.  Nonetheless, the press helped to create that impression in the name of fairness.”

Quick hits

  1. Over 62 million Americans have already voted in the 2020 election, beating the total 2016 early vote with seven days remaining before the election.
  2. More than 90,000 Californians have been forced to evacuate as wildfires continue to spread in the southern part of the state.
  3. The Supreme Court rejected Wisconsin Democrats’ request to extend the counting of mail-in ballots through Election Day. Conservative justices on the court voted 5-3 in favor of keeping the state’s laws in place to stop accepting ballots on Election Day.
  4. 41 states and Puerto Rico now have more hospitalized COVID-19 patients than they did at the end of September, and the U.S. set another record for new single day cases on Saturday with 83,000.
  5. The Republican Senate majority could very well come down to what happens in Georgia’s twin Senate races. New polling and fundraising numbers show Democrats gaining ground.
  6. Violent protests broke out in Philadelphia last night after police shot and killed a 27-year-old Black man who authorities said had a knife. 30 officers were injured in the unrest.

What D.C. is talking about.

Amy Coney Barrett. Yesterday, Barrett was sworn in as the 115th Supreme Court justice in U.S. history, filling the seat left open on the court by liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death in September. Barrett’s confirmation marks the first time since the 1930s that conservatives have had a strong majority on the court (now 6-3), and 15 of the last 19 Supreme Court judges have now been nominated and confirmed by Republicans.

What once was expected to be a bitter battle over her nomination ended up being a rather uneventful, predictable affair. The vote to confirm her was 52-48, with only Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) breaking party ranks and voting with Democrats. After Barrett takes the judicial oath at the Supreme Court today, she can begin participating in decisions — and will likely play a role in settling election day disputes. She’s the fifth woman ever appointed to the Supreme Court and the first put there by Republicans since Sandra Day O’Connor in 1981.

Barrett is expected to serve on the court in the mold of Antonin Scalia. She is described as an “originalist” or “textualist.” Originalist is used to describe justices who interpret Constitutional law based on what the language was intended to mean when written or adopted. Textualism means she tries to focus on the text of a bill or legislation rather than the purpose lawmakers were trying to achieve when they wrote the bill.

With just seven days to go until election day, Barrett’s confirmation hands President Trump perhaps his biggest win to date — a major victory for conservatives who have been trying to overhaul the courts for decades. After Senate Republicans refused to consider Barack Obama’s 2016 Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland because of the proximity of his nomination to an election, Democrats accused them of hypocrisy for moving forward with Barrett’s confirmation now. But Republicans defended the move by arguing their control of the Senate and White House gave them a mandate.

Below, we’ll inspect some reactions to this decision. You can read previous Tangle coverage of this Supreme Court vacancy here and here.

What the right is saying.

The right is thrilled by the confirmation and believes Barrett had the support of the American people.

“Her poise and fluency explain why 51% of Americans, in a Gallup poll last week, said they want to see her ascend to the Supreme Court,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote. “By voting yes, Republicans stood by their principles and fulfilled their constitutional role, no matter the electoral implications. Chairman Lindsey Graham left the campaign trail to lead the Judiciary Committee hearings. Senators Cory Gardner and Martha McSally, who might lose on Nov. 3, didn’t flinch.”

“Majority Leader Mitch McConnell deserves special credit for helping to reshape the federal courts after decades of liberal dominance,” it added. “In addition to three associate Justices, the Senate in the last three-and-a-half years has confirmed 53 circuit judges, or about 30% of the appellate total, plus 162 district judges, per Mr. McConnell’s office. This legacy will last for a generation or more.”

John Yoo argued that Barrett’s nomination was a major victory for the religious right — and that Barrett’s appointment gives them an opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“The obvious issue surrounding Barrett’s nomination, and that of every Supreme Court nominee since Robert Bork in 1987, is abortion,” John Yoo said in Fox News. “Voters who care about abortion can now change policy only by influencing the judges on the federal courts. Overturning Roe v. Wade would not only reverse a poorly reasoned decision, but it could set the nation on a better course. Reversing Roe v. Wade would not end abortion in the nation, but only return the question to Congress and the nation’s statehouses. States could choose different abortion regimes, just as they do with crime and other life and death questions, and people can move to live in states whose policies they like.”

Rod Dreher took a zoomed out approach, acknowledging the historical significance of this moment.

“Look at that scene at the White House tonight. A black Supreme Court justice swears in a female Supreme Court justice. Both of them are religious believers. Both of them are conservative,” he wrote. “When Justice Thomas was born, in 1948, there had never been a black man on the Supreme Court. When Justice Barrett was born, in 1972, the first female justice was still nine years away. And now look at the two of them at the White House tonight. They stand for what is best in America.”

What the left is saying.

The left feels that Republicans have broken norms and their own precedent in confirming Barrett this close to an election, and they are calling for expanding the court and other reforms if they win the election in convincing fashion.

The New York Times editorial board said the process smacked of “unseemly hypocrisy.”

“Republicans raced to install Judge Barrett barely one week before a national election, in defiance of a principle they loudly insisted upon four years ago,” the board wrote. When Barrett takes her seat, it argued, she’ll “represent the culmination of a four-decade crusade by conservatives to fill the federal courts with reliably Republican judges who will serve for decades as a barricade against an ever more progressive nation.”

“This is not a wild conspiracy theory,” the board said. “Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader and one of the main architects of this crusade, gloated about it openly on Sunday, following a bare-majority vote to move Judge Barrett’s nomination to the Senate floor. ‘A lot of what we’ve done over the last four years will be undone sooner or later by the next election,’ Mr. McConnell said. ‘They won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.’ That’s the perfect distillation of what this has been all about. It also reveals what it was never about. It was never about letting the American people have a voice in the makeup of the Supreme Court.”

In a widely-shared piece in The Nation, Elie Mystal summed up the progressive left’s position by calling for Democrats to expand the court in response.

“The only question left for Democrats, should they win the election that McConnell has evidently already given up on, is whether they’re willing to prove McConnell wrong,” he wrote. “McConnell’s strategy makes sense only if Democrats are too weak and fractured to do what is necessary to take back the Supreme Court should they win the current election. He is clearly betting they are. He is betting that the Democrats will spend all their time in power making cosmetic changes through popular legislation, without challenging the structure McConnell has fundamentally altered.”

“Democrats could counter the corruption and damage done during McConnell’s reign by expanding the court and instituting reforms to make confirmation battles less political,” he added. “By adding 10 or 20 justices, a smart court-expansion plan would make each individual justice less important and depoliticize the fight over their successors when they die. Democrats could then pass ethics reforms—reforms that would be judged constitutional by the new, expanded court—which could mandate the recusal of, say, a judge appointed in an election year from cases involving that election.”

My take.

Tangle has now covered Barrett’s nomination on three occasions, and there is little left to say.

As I’ve written repeatedly, there is no doubt about Barrett’s qualifications or her decency. She is, in my mind, the most qualified person President Trump has tapped for any role of any kind in the federal government. By all accounts of everyone who has ever worked with her, regardless of their political beliefs, she is a tremendous student of the law and a good human being to boot. That’s probably why there was so little in her confirmation hearing that even approached tension: she was airtight from top to bottom, and Democrats had no moves to play.

I also believe, as I do with most justices, that Barrett will be far less predictable than people think right now. Do I fear that she could prove a decisive vote on striking down the Affordable Care Act, with no replacement, or rejecting ballots that arrive after election day? Yes, I do. But I also know that a justice’s vote is not always so easy to predict.

Barrett’s body of work or decency as a person was never really the issue. The process was. Republicans’ defense for pushing through her nomination one week before this election still doesn’t hold water for me. Republicans campaigned on refusing to vote on Merrick Garland because they were nine months from an election and said that American voters should decide. Some, like Sen. Lindsey Graham, pledged repeatedly not to push through justices so close to an election in the future. He insisted several times that we hold him to his word, and so I will: my reporting will never take his pledges seriously again.

Some Republicans have defended this confirmation by arguing that they control the Senate and the White House, a different scenario than in 2016. That’s nonsense. When Republicans pledged not to push through a nominee so close to future elections, their power was implicit. How could they stop or push a nominee without a majority in the Senate? They aren’t doing anything “wrong” but they are certainly hypocrites who are breaking their own political promises that were made a short four years ago. That’s not unique in politics, but it’s not nothing, either.

Conservatives have also taken to harkening back to the nomination processes of Robert Bork and Brett Kavanaugh to argue there is precedent for politicizing the court on both sides. In 1987, Bork faced tough questions from Senate Democrats and saw his nomination sink as his views became more clear and public opinion on him soured. Reagan then nominated a more moderate replacement, who was easily confirmed. That’s how these hearings should go: nominate, question, give the public a look and then vote. In 2016, Republicans refused to consider Garland at all, despite the fact that he was far more moderate than either Barrett or Bork. That refusal to even consider his nomination is what was so unprecedented and cynical. That they used the proximity to an election that was nine months away as an excuse, and then pushed through Barrett as 60 million votes had already been cast in this election, is pretty much the textbook definition of hypocrisy.

Democrats have pledged vengeance and it’s hard to blame them. Democratic nominees for president have now won the popular vote in six of the last seven elections, all while Republicans have a stranglehold on the courts and the Senate and have stymied much of the progressive agenda. Republicans understand that they are very likely about to lose the presidency and the Senate, and the court could serve as a bulwark to thwart the Democratic agenda. This tension between an ever more progressive population and the most conservative Supreme Court we’ve had since the 1930s will almost certainly lead to another decade of harsh political battles.

But, again, I don’t see “expanding” or packing the court as a solution. The best reform I see on the table — and, yes, some kind of reform is needed — is an 18-year term limit for justices, which would give future presidents equal weight in shaping the court and turn down the temperature on the politics of what may be our most vital institution. Anything else would simply set us up for tit-for-tat vengeance each time the Senate changes hands, which could happen in 2020 and will likely happen again in 2024. That political and legislative chaos could be far more disruptive than anything we’re experiencing now.

Step out.

If you’ve been reading Tangle for a while, you’ve probably gotten good at engaging other people’s views. Well, here’s an opportunity to apply that in real life: the organization Braver Angels is hosting a conversation today between Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) and Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH) on Facebook. I’ve been chatting with Braver Angels about a potential partnership, given their mission of uniting red and blue-leaning Americans to help depolarize the country. This is a cool opportunity to watch two members of Congress, both in the Problem Solvers Caucus, discuss the state of the country. You can watch at 1:30 p.m. Eastern by going to Rep. Dean Phillips’ Facebook page. If you miss it, a recording will be available afterward. Braver Angels is also hosting their final election debate tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern, and you can sign up for that here.

Your questions, answered.

Q: How many people are actually single-issue voters? I.e. how many voters would actually refuse to vote for a candidate they otherwise like if that candidate didn't agree with them on one single issue? Or how many voters are just voting for one single issue? I am curious about hypotheticals like if Joe Biden came out as pro-life, how many voters would he actually lose or gain?

— Rob, Washington D.C.

Tangle: The true number is really, really difficult to surmise. My best guess would be anywhere between one in five and one in four voters. Gallup has perhaps the best “single-issue” voter poll, in which it asks candidates about an issue and then asks whether the candidate “must share” the voter’s view on that issue. In 2013, 17% of Americans said a candidate must share their view on abortion, which is generally considered the most common single issue to sway voters. In 2020, Gallup’s poll said 24% of Americans say they would vote for a candidate only if their views aligned on abortion.

When broken down into pro-life vs. pro-choice, that number goes up on the pro-life side. A whopping 30% of pro-life voters say they would not consider a candidate who didn’t share their views on abortion. Only 19% who carry pro-choice views said the same thing.

But contrary to popular belief, abortion may not actually be the most powerful voter issue. That title probably goes to gun rights. Again, the political polling here is sometimes hard to parse, but the same Gallup polling showed that in 2017, 26% of Americans said they’d only vote for a candidate who shared their view on guns. That’s higher than the 24% on abortion (though it’s also within the margin of error), and guns seem to be a much more steady single-issue motivator than abortion has been, at least in the last 20 or 30 years.

So, what would happen if Biden came out as pro-life? Probably not much. For one, I’m not totally convinced that self-identifying single-issue voters are actually single-issue voters. But more importantly, Biden coming out as pro-life wouldn’t really move the needle unless Trump also came out as pro-choice. Given that people who are pro-life also tend to be religious, supporters of gun rights, and conservative politically, if all things were equal with pro-life candidates, most would end up supporting Trump anyway. It feels nearly impossible to say how such a change would reshape the electorate.

What is more interesting to me is how such a change would impact Democratic voters. There are more pro-life Democrats than you think (quite a few have written in to Tangle), and if Biden were to come out as pro-life he might expand his tent to include those voters who can’t muster filling a ballot for him. But, of course, he’d probably lose a contingent of Democratic voters who would sit out or cast a protest vote if he were to take that stance.

All of this is further complicated by the data. Recent Pew research found that 12% of Republicans agree with Democrats on abortion policy and 23% don’t agree with either party. The same research found just 7% of Democrats agree with Republicans on abortion policy and 22% don’t agree with either party. So, again, how would the leading candidates of each party changing their position impact the electorate? It’s really, really hard to say.

Reminder: You can ask a question too. All you have to do is reply to this email and write in.

A story that matters.

The Trump administration will announce a rule this week that will cover out-of-pocket costs for the COVID-19 vaccine for Americans on Medicare or Medicaid. Under the rule, both Medicare and Medicaid will cover vaccines that receive emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. This is a major change to current policy, and given the likelihood that successful vaccine makers will apply for emergency use authorization before the end of the year, it means the vaccine should be cheap or free for millions of elderly and poor Americans.


  • 7. The number of days until election day.
  • 78. The number of days from November 3 to January 20, when either Trump or Joe Biden will be sworn into office.
  • 30%. Joe Biden’s chance of winning the presidential election if he loses Pennsylvania.
  • 2%. Donald Trump’s chance of winning the presidential election if he loses Pennsylvania.
  • 5.1%. Joe Biden’s current polling average lead over Donald Trump in Pennsylvania, according to FiveThirtyEight.
  • 86 in 100. Joe Biden’s current odds of winning Pennsylvania, according to FiveThirtyEight.
  • 3 in 100. Donald Trump’s current odds of winning the popular vote.
  • 12 in 100. Donald Trump’s current odds of winning the electoral college.
  • 5 in 100. The odds of the 2020 election hinging on a recount.

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Have a nice day.

NASA confirmed the existence of water on the sunlit side of the moon in a press release yesterday, indicating water may be present across the lunar service and not just in the ice that’s previously been discovered on the cold, shadowed side of the moon. NASA found water on the moon. What does it mean? I don’t know, but aliens. Aliens are on the moon. Maybe we came from the moon? Maybe there’s a hidden civilization on the moon? Maybe. “Now we know it is there. This discovery challenges our understanding of the lunar surface and raises intriguing questions about resources relevant for deep space exploration.” To contextualize this, NASA said “the Sahara desert has 100 times the amount of water than” what was detected on the moon. But nevermind that. Aliens.

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