Jul 10, 2018 - Politics & Policy

Trump’s most powerful, durable move


Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

President Trump wanted a walk-off home-run win with his Supreme Court pick, so when confidants raised doubts about Brett Kavanaugh over the past week, according to Axios' Jonathan Swan, Trump brushed them aside and offered the simple retort: “He’s got the votes.”

Why it matters: So many reluctant Republicans voted for Trump because of the Court. They got Justice Neil Gorsuch, and now they have Kavanaugh, validating and institutionalizing their ideology for 30 years to come.

  • Trump stuck to the list of conservative judges he had promised to draw from. He delivered what he promised, as he promised, on the one thing most Rs care most about.
  • He has cemented his credibility and power with the base — giving him nearly infinite license, especially with evangelicals.

Why voting matters: Remember that a shift of fewer than 80,000 votes in three states (Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) would have made Hillary Clinton president.

  • Now there's a conservative court for a generation.

Trump secretly settled on Kavanaugh because the 53-year-old federal appeals court judge, who lives seven miles from the White House, is "in Washington, but not of Washington."

  • That was the description last night by the Federalist Society's Leonard Leo, Trump's closest outside adviser on judicial selections.
  • Leo told me that Kavanaugh, 53, cemented his bond with Trump during their second in-person meeting, when his show of strength and humility convinced the president that he would "do what he thought was right, no matter what the social, cultural and politics fashions of the day might be."
  • Leo said that between Kavanaugh's 300 opinions and his private conversations, he showed "a willingness to demand transparency and accountability from an ever-growing administrative state."

Trump aides had advised him from the beginning that Kavanaugh was perhaps the most certainly confirmable option on his shortlist:

  • Advisers told me that Kavanaugh's Ivy League credentials (Yale 1987, Yale Law 1990) and Central Casting family made a deep impression on Trump.
  • Using Trumpian lingo, the five pages of talking points the White House sent its allies last night declare: "Judge Kavanaugh is the single most qualified person in the country to serve on the Supreme Court."
  • Listen to this story ... Over the past year, when Trump talked about his first pick for the Court, Justice Neil Gorsuch, he frequently bragged: "He went to Harvard, then Oxford. He actually said Oxford was tougher than Harvard. How smart must he be?"

This quote says it all ... A source close to Trump told me: "For an anti-elitist, he is a hardcore credentialist."

Be smart ... N.Y. Times columnist Ross Douthat, a Catholic and abortion opponent, captures the dynamic behind last night's prime-time selection show:

  • "[N]otwithstanding all the head-fakes and reality-television atmospherics, Trump has demonstrated that he’ll take his Trumpishness only so far."
  • "It’s one thing to blow up the G-7 with trade wars and make nice with a murderous North Korean despot; it’s quite another to disappoint the D.C. conservative legal establishment."
  • "So ... he circled back to the best-known, deepest-resumed, most-vouched-for choice."

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