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Opinion
Jonathan Bernstein

Get Ready for Two Big Months in Politics

This spring could prove enormously consequential for Congress, the Supreme Court and much else.

Decision time.

Decision time.

Photographer: Stefani Reynolds/AFP

For U.S. politics, May and June are going to be humdingers.

1. Primary elections continue in May. The big events are a series of Republican primaries in which former President Donald Trump has endorsed candidates who are not sure things. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake has a rundown of these contests, beginning with the Ohio Senate election on May 3. What matters is how Republican party actors, especially politicians, interpret the events in terms of Trump’s influence. This is largely self-enforcing: If they think Trump is invincible within the party going forward, he will be. If they think he’s become a paper tiger, he’ll become one. Of course, how they perceive the results will be subject to spin from all sections of the party. We can certainly expect Trump himself to declare victory no matter what (perhaps accompanied by claims of fraud).

Trump’s influence on the party isn’t the only outcome that matters. While candidates are generally less important than they used to be in general elections, it’s still possible that in some cases poor candidates could cost Republicans elections they could otherwise win. (While that’s possible for Democrats as well, they have fewer hotly contested primaries coming up, and fewer candidates that the party is worried about.)

2. The Supreme Court’s term is ending, and several major decisions are pending. The biggest one, and certainly the one apt to generate the most talk by political actors, is Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case that the court’s fortified Republican majority is expected to use to either hollow out or flat-out overturn Roe v. Wade and the right to abortion. Beyond the substantive effects of Dobbs and several other cases, we’re also going to learn more about the general course of the court’s majority: Just how aggressive will they be in overturning precedent and advancing an agenda? There’s thought to be a split between Chief Justice John Roberts and some of the others that’s less about that agenda than about restraint in achieving it; we’ll learn more over the next few weeks about how that’s going to play out. The stakes for the court and for U.S. public policy are enormous.

3. The select committee on the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has finally scheduled its much-delayed hearings. Eight hearings are scheduled in June, beginning on the ninth, with some during the day and at least some intended for prime time. Better than nothing, but I’m still convinced it’s too little, too late. For what it’s worth — and the situations are different, the media landscape is different, and Congress as a whole holds far fewer hearings than it once did — the Senate Watergate Committee held 51 public sessions over six months. I’m skeptical that eight sessions will be sufficient to build any momentum or have any long-lasting effects, but we’ll see.

Gas prices, inflation in general and economic growth are likely to be larger factors for the November elections than all of this stuff put together. The Jan. 6 committee hearings weren’t likely to have any effect on the midterms no matter how they were conducted. But politics isn’t all about elections. We’re in for a busy, and very important, couple of months.

For weekend reading, here are some of the best items from political scientists this week:

Dan Drezner on sanctions and the dollar.

Jason Grumet and Joshua Huder on earmarks.

Colin Jones, Robert M. Stein, Lonna Atkeson, M.V. Hood III and Mason Reece on whether voters trusted the 2020 elections.

Shauna N. Gillooly at the Monkey Cage on the upcoming elections in Colombia.

And also at the Monkey Cage, Natasha Quadlin and Brian Powell on public opinion about college costs.