Elections have consequences. That’s a cliché, but clichés are born of truths. And this is a truth: If a Democrat had been elected president in 2016, we wouldn’t have a right-wing Supreme Court.

If Donald Trump hadn’t beaten Hillary Clinton, gun control laws and national abortion rights would not have been quashed by the Supreme Court last week.

The Supreme Court today would not have a 6-3 conservative majority. It would be 6-3 moderate-to-liberal. Parts of American life wouldn’t have been turned upside down.

Trump named three conservative justices to fill seats that would have been occupied by three liberals or centrists under a Democratic president.

On Friday, Trump bragged about that after the court overturned Roe v. Wade. The former president noted he pledged during the 2016 campaign to nominate anti-Roe justices, and he did.

The abortion and other recent court decisions “were only made possible because I delivered everything as promised,” he said.

But Democrats weren’t listening close enough in 2016.

Let’s be honest: Democrats blew it. There could have been a better Democratic nominee than Hillary Clinton.

Someone who didn’t call Trump voters “deplorables.” Someone who had enough savvy to campaign in the swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania that Trump won — but that Democrat Barack Obama carried four years earlier and Democrat Joe Biden also did in 2020.

Not Bernie Sanders or another lefty. Liberals finally should have learned from the court’s abortion and gun rulings that their priority must be to elect acceptable decision-makers, not to maul moderates and send messages.

And not necessarily to nominate a woman if she isn’t the best candidate. The main goal should not be to elect the first woman president — although it’s shameful we haven’t — but to install a president who can create a Supreme Court that will protect the rights of women.

Democratic leaders — the few there are — should have cajoled then-Vice President Biden into running that year, despite his grieving for son Beau, who had just died of brain cancer.

Clinton did win the popular vote — 2.9 million more people voted for her than Trump. But he won what counted: the electoral vote by carrying 30 states.

That’s all water under the bridge, another cliché. But there’s more water flowing toward that bridge, and lessons should have been learned.

Party leaders and activists should now be thinking dispassionately about who ought to be the Democratic nominee in 2024 if President Biden doesn’t run for reelection — or even if he does.

There could be more Supreme Court justices to nominate in the next presidential term. And there’ll be lots more appellate judges to name.

In November, voters will decide which party controls Congress. Republicans need to pick up just one net seat in the Senate and five in the House to take power.

In the next term, there are likely to be moves both left and right on abortion — Democratic efforts to restore national abortion rights and Republican attempts to ban them everywhere.

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic legislators are trying to protect abortion rights by crafting a ballot measure that would specifically guarantee them in the state Constitution. But who knows what a GOP Congress might hatch if a Republican is elected president in 2024?

And the modest gun control bill Congress passed and Biden signed last week should mark the first round in toughening national firearms regulations, not the final shot.

So, Democrats who want to protect their rights to abortions and gun safety will need to fight for those rights at the ballot box.

California Democrats should ignore the top-of-the-ticket races for governor and U.S. Senate. They’re in the bag for incumbent Democrats Newsom and Alex Padilla.

The focus should be on a few key congressional races that will help decide House control.

Outside of California, there are crucial Senate races. Two are in neighboring Nevada and Arizona. Other key contests are in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and North Carolina.

Democratic politicians are talking a robust game. But will there be follow-through?

Will Newsom help House candidates in California by campaigning for them and raising money? Will he lend a hand in Nevada?

“We have the capacity to turn this around,” Newsom said Friday, attacking the court’s abortion ruling. “It’s time for us to wake up, control what we can control. … We can control them on election day.”

Republicans turned around the Supreme Court by out-politicking Democrats in 2016. Democrats could begin turning it back this year and in 2024 by never forgetting this major consequence of elections: Losing parties can’t construct the court.

George Skelton is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.





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