early and often

DeSantis’s Weak Supreme Court Pitch Is No Threat to Trump

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

As he formally announces his 2024 presidential candidacy from a position well behind Donald Trump, it’s understandable that Ron DeSantis wants to compete with the 45th president’s accomplishments on behalf of conservative activists. And while addressing conservative Christians at the National Religious Broadcasters confab in Orlando earlier this week DeSantis had a particularly big mountain to climb: How do you top Trump-picked Supreme Court justices fulfilling a promise to get Roe v. Wade reversed?

Trump already appointed three youngish conservatives justices, so what’s left for President DeSantis to do? He seemed to recognize the problem, as the New York Times reported:

“I think if you look over, you know, the next two presidential terms, there is a good chance that you could be called upon to seek replacements for Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito,” Mr. DeSantis said, referring to two of the court’s most staunchly conservative members. “And the issue with that is you can’t really do better than those two. They are the gold standard for jurisprudence.”

But a president who sticks around long enough might be able to replace, say, 68-year-old Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a liberal Obama appointee, or 67-year-old Chief Justice John Roberts, known in conservative circles as an unreliable squish. And so we have DeSantis’s offer, notes the Times:

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has begun articulating a new rationale for why Republicans should nominate him over former President Donald J. Trump, saying he could “fortify” the Supreme Court’s conservative majority during a potential eight years in office.

“You would have a 7-2 conservative majority on the Supreme Court that would last a quarter-century,” Mr. DeSantis said on Monday during an address to the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Orlando. “So this is big stuff, very important that that gets done right.”

Trump, you see, will only be eligible for one more term in the White House, assuming he defers to the constitutional term limit. The Florida governor could happily pack the Court with right-wing judicial-activist nominations right on into the 2030s!

This argument, which DeSantis is likely to make more generally going forward, isn’t all that compelling if you think through it for a bit. DeSantis is only 44. If he really wanted to extend Republican appointment powers in both the judicial and executive branches as long as possible, he’d defer to Trump in 2024 and then run to succeed him in 2028. The second term DeSantis would undoubtedly earn after turning the U.S. into a giant replica of Florida could give a grateful nation 12 straight years of MAGA-Republican governance and no telling how many federal judges. Indeed, the most principled thing DeSantis could and should have done was to cut a deal with Trump to become his 2024 running mate, avoiding all of the 2024 cycle’s intraparty unpleasantness and setting himself up as the Trumpist heir.

As it is, DeSantis might want to stop trying to outdo Trump on the judicial front. He could just tell conservative audiences he’ll let the Federalist Society choose his jurists sight unseen while he’s busy tormenting their common enemies via legislation and executive orders, which the increasingly right-wing courts will smile upon as they wield their gavels year after year after year.

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DeSantis’s Weak Supreme Court Pitch Is No Threat to Trump