So for his first momentous decision as president that does not involve disrupting international travel, Donald Trump is providing a powerful validation to those who have argued he approaches politics and government as nothing more than a big reality-TV show.
According to CNN, Trump is bringing two finalists (Neil Gorsuch and Thomas Hardiman) for a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court to Washington in advance of tonight’s live TV announcement of the president’s choice. It’s a move right out of The Apprentice.
Gorsuch is in Washington, according to one source close to the process. Hardiman was seen by a CNN producer leaving his Pittsburgh neighborhood Tuesday morning and driving east towards Washington.
Another one of the sources, familiar with the White House plans, said the administration is taking extraordinary measures to build suspense and keep the final selection under wraps for as close to the 8 p.m. EST announcement as possible.
This seems to be mostly a matter of presidential theater, though apparently this plan preserves The Boss’s right to redirect the course of U.S. constitutional law at the last minute.
One source said that Gorsuch was told it was likely him. Those close to the process warn that until it is announced, Trump could change his mind.
For all we know, given the 45th president’s priorities, he wants to see which of these men looks the most judicial in person.
But he’s playing with fire here. Gorsuch has become the late favorite of the conservative activists most interested in this pick, partly because he’s a big “religious liberty” enthusiast; partly due to his similarity in views and writing style to the late justice he would succeed, Antonin Scalia; and partly because of last-minute fears about whether Hardiman is stone-cold certain to do what the right wants him to do on issues ranging from abortion to immigration.
If Trump names Hardiman instead because he likes the cut of his jib or because the judge’s Third Circuit colleague happens to be the president’s sister (a source of major angst on the right today), there could be a pretty serious backlash among people Trump needs to keep congressional Republicans under his yoke. The shiny object of a SCOTUS appointment or two was clearly an important factor in keeping GOP “base” voters, especially conservative white evangelicals, in the Trump column last November. Messing with that dynamic just to enhance the production values and ratings for Trump’s SCOTUS-announcement show would be a big mistake.