Hours after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the first question of Saturday's Republican presidential debate turned to the question of appointing his successor and front-runner Donald Trump's views on it.
Republican leaders in the Senate hastily made it known that they do not intend to approve President Barack Obama's nominee for the position, apparently regardless of who that person is. Obama plans to nominate someone anyway.
Responding to John Dickerson's question about that dispute,Trump said if he were in Obama's position, he would nominate someone too. However, he hopes "Mitch and the group" can delay the president's choice, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Later in the debate, Sen. Ted Cruz revisited the issue and questioned Trump's credibility as a candidate who would nominate strong conservative justices, since he has supported liberal positions in the past. He also made the stakes clear for primary voters, as he sees them.
Trump has changed a number of his political views in recent years, most notably on abortion. In 1999, Trump described himself as "very pro-choice in every respect," but he now claims to be pro-life.
"The death of Scalia in a microcosm, at least for Republicans, is what the 2016 election is all about," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.
To Trump's credit, O'Connell noted that he was the only candidate on the debate stage who named specific judges in his debate answers Saturday, but the strategist is skeptical Trump will gain or lose much support over the matter.
"Ted Cruz and all the other candidates are doing everything possible to dislodge Donald Trump from the pole position," he said. It may influence some undecided voters in more religious states that hold primaries over the next month, but those voters were likely already aware of Trump's inconsistent positions on social issues.
"Those issues were issues for Trump anyway for the next four weeks," O'Connell said.
Although Justice Scalia is seen as "the father of modern conservative legal scripture" among many Republicans, O'Connell observed that he has never seen a major election driven by judicial appointment issues and he doubts 2016 will be any different. He pointed to a 2006 poll that found more Americans were able to name two of the seven dwarves than two Supreme Court justices.
"Most people don't even know who sits on the court," he said.