ANALYSIS: What President Obama's Supreme Court Nomination Means for the 2016 Race

Obama's nomination is destined to become yet another issue in the 2016 race.

March 16, 2016, 6:01 PM

— -- Just when you thought the 2016 race for the White House couldn’t get any more divisive, the president’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court is yet another issue destined to be turned into a political football.

In his speech this morning, President Obama asked Senate Republicans to “play it straight” and “fair” even in a time “when our politics are so polarized.” Almost immediately, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell again stressed the vacancy should not be filled in an election year despite the nomination of Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

There does seem to be political risk in that calculation. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll last week, Americans by 63 to 32 percent said the president’s nominee should get a hearing.

There’s no doubt Democrats will make this an issue in 2016 Senate races, and it’s something sure to concern vulnerable Republicans running for re-election. But, how will it impact the 2016 presidential campaign?

Ted Cruz, the only candidate running who has personally argued before the Supreme Court, put out a statement attacking Garland, calling him “exactly the type of Supreme Court nominee you get when you make deals in Washington,” saying his nomination is “precisely the kind of deal the Donald Trump has told us he would make.” Cruz also accused the GOP front-runner of wanting to nominate someone “who would rule along with other liberals on the bench.”

With that statement, Cruz assured this issue won’t be just between the two parties, but it will very likely be something he continues to attack his Republican rivals on. It’s an argument that hasn’t worked so far. Trump’s supporters are early deciders and loyal, not seeming to care about his past views.

Cruz will very likely bring up -- as fellow GOP contender John Kasich could as well -- the important issues the Supreme Court could face, including immigration, abortion and Obamacare, arguing that Trump cannot be trusted with a decision of this magnitude, especially with past support of Democrats and liberal issues.

Despite the fierce opposition Republicans on the Hill are waging to even meeting with Judge Garland, there is also the possible fear they must be feeling if Hillary Clinton becomes the Democratic nominee -- as it appears she will -- and she defeats the Republican contender. She could very well choose a nominee that is more liberal than Garland. If the former secretary of state does win, it’s possible Republicans could try to settle for Garland and approve him in a lame duck session.

Some Republicans are also concerned a Trump nomination could lead to losses down ballot and result in Democrats regaining control of the Senate. If that happens, they could push through whomever a hypothetical President Clinton chooses. And this other consideration may only be whispered, but with the real estate mogul being such a wild card of a candidate, it’s possible a Trump nominee may not be a traditional conservative choice for the court either.

There’s also the question about how this could impact the ongoing Democratic nominating contests. Thanks to Bernie Sanders’ influence, Clinton has had to move to the left. Many progressives are not happy with Obama’s choice today: Could she promise to nominate someone more liberal? If Sanders exits the race, this is an issue that could bring out that enthusiastic support she needs.

These are all questions that won’t be answered anytime soon, but could be part of the fight that will now take place both on the Hill and on the campaign trail.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events