Through many presidential election cycles, I have consistently
pointed out that political “surprises” are to be expected during
the campaign season. Most of these surprises have historically
occurred outside the campaigns themselves. Many of them
took place outside the U.S. (European war in 1940; the Suez
crisis and Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956; the Iran hostage
crisis in 1980) or in the economy (the depression in 1932; the
mortgage banking meltdown in 2008), or in the Congress (its
shutdown in 1995-96). it might be argued that the timing of
these surprises was precipitated or intensified by the fact that a
presidential campaign was imminent or occurring.
Less frequently, surprises occur during a presidential campaign
which are not devised by political forces, but which are in the
category of “natural phenomena.” Such a surprise just occurred
with the death of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin
Scalia. Conventional wisdom had it that the next vacancy would
likely be to replace one of the most liberal justices (an elderly
associate justice had been seriously ill), but Nature is not
predictable, and although he was 79, Justice Scalia appeared in
President Obama has the right and the duty to nominate a
replacement. The U.S. senate has the right and duty either to
confirm or reject any presidential appointment. With the
conservative-liberal balance of the court at stake, however,
the senate might well delay action on the nomination, and
allow Mr, Obama’s successor to make the appointment. The
precedent for this was the Abe Fortas nomination in 1968
when the senate delayed action until after the presidential
election. Democrats will complain; Republicans will cheer;
but a delay seems inevitable.
Thus, Supreme Court appointments, always an issue in a
presidential campaign, become an even more immediate issue
for voters in 2016. It is not clear which side is helped more by
Mr. Scalia’s death; both sides have much at stake in this
prerogative of the U.S. president to appoint all members of the
As in 1956, the political surprises are not limited to one event.
This year in particular, the world scene seems vulnerable to
Two remarkable political surprises have already occurred in
the 2016 cycle. Their names are Bernie Sanders and Donald
Trump. Virtually no one saw their rise in presidential politics
The 2016 presidential campaign has defied many of the
historical rules so far. It is five months until the national major
party conventions, and eight months until Election Day in
Who knows what is next? This year, a surprise is no surprise.
Buckle up your political seat belts.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.