2016 Election Observer: Vincent Phillip Muñoz
Rachel O'Grady | Thursday, January 28, 2016
Editor’s Note: Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, The Observer will sit down with Notre Dame experts to break down the election and its importance to students. In this second installment, News Writer Rachel O’Grady asks Tocqueville Associate Professor of Political Science Vincent Phillip Muñoz about the upcoming primaries and the biggest issues of the campaign.
Rachel O’Grady: With the Iowa caucuses just a few days away and New Hampshire not long after, what should we be looking for as the results come in?
Professor Muñoz: I suppose the number one question for the Republican primary is: Do Trump supporters actually turn out to vote? If they don’t, the Donald might be in for a quick fall. Or perhaps that’s just my wishful thinking. For the Democrats: Can Bernie Sanders actually win one of the early states and, if he does, can he transform that victory into a perception that he could actually defeat Clinton? And if Trump and Sanders win in Iowa and New Hampshire, expect lots of talk about a third party challenger mounting a run — Bloomberg?
ROG: The average age of Supreme Court justices right now is 75, so it is likely our next president will have at least one Supreme Court nominee. How does that play into the primary and, more importantly, the general election?
VPM: Given the blockbuster cases that have been or will be decided before November, I expect we will hear quite a bit about the Supreme Court and the type of justice each candidate would appoint. Perhaps it’s because it’s still relatively early, but I’m surprised we have not heard more about how a Cruz presidency coupled with a Republican Senate might actually lead to a reversal of the Court’s decision to protect same-sex marriage. That’s a long shot for any number of reasons, but given that Justice Ginsburg is 82 and Justice Breyer is 77, it’s not out of the question. And if Hillary Clinton were to win and Justice Scalia were to leave the Court (he is 79), the Court would surely move to the left, likely ensuring another generation of constitutional protection for abortion.
ROG: There are a number of important Supreme Court decisions that have happened under the Obama administration, many of which Republicans have called unconstitutional, and we’re hearing a lot about it during the debates. Does this end up being a long-term issue?
VPM: Supreme Court decisions are almost always a long-term issue, which is one of the reasons why they are so important.
ROG: In your research and opinion, what do you think will be the most important issue in the general election?
VPM: President Obama’s reelection in 2012 was the first time in my political lifetime (thankfully, I’m too young to remember Jimmy Carter) that the country elected a progressive president. In 2008, Obama presented himself as “post-partisan,” but that wasn’t possible or plausible in 2012. In November, we will find out if the country wants to continue down a progressive path.
ROG: Taking it back to college campuses, particularly here at Notre Dame, what issues do you think students need to be paying attention to in the coming months?
VPM: Since gay rights and religious freedom (not to mention free speech, affirmative action and campaign finance reform) are significantly impacted by the judiciary, understanding the type of judges and Supreme Court justices a candidate would appoint is critically important if one wants to vote intelligently on these issues. This, of course, is one of the reasons we started the Constitutional Studies Minor.