In March of 2013, a little-known school by the name of Wichita State University made a historic run in the annual NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Entering as a No. 9 seed team, the Shockers triumphed over No. 8 seed Pittsburgh, No. 1 seed Gonzaga, No. 13 seed La Salle and No. 2 seed Ohio State before finally being eliminated by Louisville. Wichita State’s story has been heralded as the epitome of a March Madness Cinderella story — a team with low expectations and high odds makes a miraculous run deep into the tournament.
This dark horse narrative can be found not only in the tournament but in our current political landscape as well. Coming off the heels of a decisive electoral defeat last November, Democrats are out of power in Washington and face limited options to advance their agenda.
Currently, the Republican Party commands both Congress and the White House. Conventional wisdom would suggest that Republicans could essentially pass whatever they desire into law but that is not always in the cards.
Like the NCAA Tournament, the latest arena for a clash between frontrunner and underdog also takes place this March. A Republican-controlled Senate looks to confirm quickly Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee, to the Supreme Court of the United States, a process that begins with his nomination hearing March 20.
The odds do not look great for the Democrats. Gorsuch is a mainstream conservative justice who greatly respects an independent judiciary, passes GOP litmus tests and has been on the shortlists for years. Republicans should not have trouble keeping their Senators in line and placating their base, and, with 52 affirmative votes in the Senate, Gorsuch is expected to face little trouble.
However, this does not mean Democrats should give up hope so quickly. There are Cinderella stories every few years, despite the slim chances of success. Yes, it will require a tireless work ethic and a lot of luck, but declaring it impossible ignores the classic underdog narrative.
To pull off the upset, Democrats must frame Gorsuch as a nominee outside the political norm. Gorsuch has a resume fit for a Supreme Court nominee, but his views are decidedly of the conservative extreme.
To deny successfully his nomination, they need to paint Gorsuch as too stringently conservative for the non-partisan bench. Because the Supreme Court has become more partisan in recent years as the fault of both parties, Democrats could seize this opportunity to frame a message and return the Supreme Court to a nonpartisan entity.
Democrats will also need to convince voters that this seat rightfully belongs to Merrick Garland, the moderate judge nominated by President Obama to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat. Not only did the GOP block Garland’s nomination for over eight months, but many Republicans had come out saying they were prepared to block a potential President Clinton nominee for four years.
Using the argument that Republicans had politicized the Supreme Court and that this seat was meant for a centrist nominee like Garland, Democrats could mobilize enough support to win a narrow vote against Gorsuch.
We are not saying this will be easy or even likely. We are saying it is not impossible.
Although incredibly rare, low-seed teams should never give up hope. Wichita State and Florida Gulf Coast certainly did not, and Democrats should not either. They lose nothing by taking on Goliath, and if they do lose, they get to say they tried.
But after all, it is March. Anything can happen.
Christian Mesa and Aaron Bennett are sophomores in the College. Playing Politics appears every other Friday.