Justice Kennedy just Comey’d Sen. Donnelly

FREMONT – U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly may have just gotten Comey’d.

For Hoosier Republicans who have hitched their wagon to President Trump, having endured all the incendiary rhetoric, the tariffs that are now hammering soybean farmers and manufacturers who use steel, for all the extramarital porn stars and Playboy bunnies, for all the racism and assaults on American institutions near and far, last Wednesday made it all worth it.

That was the day that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced he would step down, giving President Trump the golden opportunity to put that august panel on a conservative arc for the next generation after years of 5 to 4 decisions with Kennedy as the swing vote. And not unlike FBI Director James Comey’s October 2016 surprise when he announced a new probe of Hillary Clinton that altered the course of the presidential race in Trump’s favor, Kennedy’s decision now roils the 2018 mid-terms, potentially restaging what had been shaping up to be a Democratic year.

Squarely in the crosshairs is Sen. Donnelly, already in an intense re-election battle against Republican Mike Braun, his worst-case scenario coming out of the May primary with none of the congressional baggage his two GOP opponents had. The Senate race is on course to top $100 million in spending (the nasty TV ads will be with us constantly for the next five months), and the Kennedy decision just splashed gasoline on the hot hood and fenders.

To date most polls show the intensity of Democratic voters out-pacing Republicans significantly. But with a confirmation battle brewing for the fall, Republicans who have endured the Trump excesses now have all the incentive to engage and head for the polls as they seek to rescind Roe v. Wade and gay marriage. It is this tipping point Supreme Court seat that matters the most.

Donnelly faces an epic choice: Vote to confirm Trump’s SCOTUS nominee like he did with Justice Neil Gorsuch last year, angering part of his base, or vote against and with it, putting a bazooka in the GOP quiver which maintains he is out of touch with Hoosier voters.

If Trump were to nominate 7th Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett, like Donnelly a Notre Dame Law School graduate, the Democrat will be under intense pressure on the alumni and home front. Last fall, Donnelly joined Republicans in a 55-43 vote to confirm Barrett for the 7th Circuit, saying, “I believe she’s qualified to serve as a circuit court judge. As I have repeatedly said, part of my job is to review, debate, and vote on judicial nominations.”

As for Kennedy’s successor, Donnelly explained, “Part of my job as a United States senator is to carefully consider the president’s judicial nominees, including for the Supreme Court, and I will thoroughly review the record and qualifications of any nominee presented to the Senate.”

For Vice President Mike Pence, this is the moment of his career. Late last week he had a little-noticed lunch with conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, prompting some like Curt Smith of the Indiana Family Institute to sense the Kennedy retirement was at hand. Smith called a nomination of Barrett “the perfect choice.”

While Axios lists the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo (who developed The List of 25 for President Trump), evangelical activist Ralph Reed and White House lawyer Don McGahn as key influences on this epic SCOTUS nod, Pence is best positioned to have Trump’s ear … at the end, which is the most critical moment. He is a constant Oval Office presence, travels often with Trump, and has his respect and loyalty. The Trump administration is speckled with Hoosiers (Dan Coats, Seema Verma, Dr. Jerome Adams to name a few) that Pence was instrumental in positioning.

Pence is now at the apex of his influence, having endured all the “boot-licker” criticism. He absorbed all the nutty stuff, the racist rants, the authoritarian trappings, the Russian collusion allegations … to be where he is at this very moment. Pence will almost certainly be the most influential Trump whisperer on the issue that matters most, when it matters most.

Trump and Pence will make repeated visits to Indiana to campaign for Braun, with the Supreme Court seat now Topic A. But it’s not all bad news for Sen. Joe. A Politico/Morning Consult poll shows the tax reforms are tanking, with only 37 percent supporting, down from 44 percent in April. A mere 25 percent of voters said they had noticed an increase in their paychecks, while 52 percent said they hadn’t.

Economist Steve Rattner’s famous Morning Joe charting on MSNBC shows soybean prices rolling off the table after Trump announced tariffs in early May, while manufacturers using hot-rolled coil steel are getting hammered with prices soaring beginning in early March.

Can it be too long before a “Hoosier Harley Riders for Joe” wing forms once Trump vowed to destroy the iconic motorcycle manufacturer after it decided to move some production overseas in the wake of his tariffs? Will the Harley crowd trade their hogs for loyalty to a politician? Even Donald Trump? I’m skeptical, just like I am soybean farmers won’t be voting on their financial bottom line.

But make no mistake, the Donnelly-Braun Senate race has entered a new phase. Stay tuned.

This article provided by NewsEdge.