Trump brings reality TV to the US Supreme Court
Gorsuch appointment wrong foots the Democrats who are unsure how to respond
You can take the man out of “The Apprentice,” but you can’t take “The Apprentice” out of the man.
President Donald Trump unveiled his nominee for the Supreme Court on Tuesday night, and like so much about his campaign and now his administration, the announcement had some of the unreal aspects of reality TV.
There were reports that he had summoned both of the two finalists to Washington: an elimination contest! He had programmed the big reveal for prime time. No slow leak of the news followed by its anti-climactic confirmation. No muted moment in the Rose Garden in the middle of the day.
Instead, an orchestrated drumroll and then a television appearance at the same hour — 8 p.m. Eastern — when “The Apprentice” sometimes used to begin. Just like old times, but with “you’re fired” replaced by “you’re hired” (pending Senate confirmation).
The pick was Neil Gorsuch, a federal appeals court judge in Denver who has the blessing of conservatives and a resume of extraordinary accomplishment. When he stepped to the microphone, he showed none of Trump’s proud irreverence, none of Trump’s self-conscious flashiness.
He projected a quality that doesn’t exist in Trump’s wheelhouse — modesty — by saying that he was “acutely aware of my own imperfections” and noting that a “judge who likes every outcome he reaches is very likely a bad judge.”
“I am humbled,” he said, using an adjective without much currency in Trump’s vocabulary.
Now comes a partisan fight, made all the more heated by Republicans’ sustained, steadfast refusal to hold hearings on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland last year and by Democrats’ horror over so much of what the Trump administration has done so far.
While Gorsuch isn’t as divisive a choice as others Trump might have made, that may not matter. The relationship between Trump and Democrats is deteriorating so far so fast that every battle could wind up being an all-out war.
Still, Democrats have an interesting decision here. By some reckonings, Gorsuch is the conventional, milquetoast option that Trump is exercising before he indulges a wilder streak and goes for someone more provocative if another vacancy opens up. Should they save their most withering fire for that?
Or should they dave it for Trump’s many outrages beyond the Supreme Court? If you can stop him on only a few fronts, which should they be?
The climate and the context of the Gorsuch nomination are especially fascinating, and I don’t just mean the Democrats’ strategic considerations. I don’t just mean the pageant-style identification of two finalists, as if Trump were still in his Miss Universe days. I mean the chaos in which it’s occurring.
In almost any other administration, on almost any other day, the imminent announcement of a Supreme Court nominee would have utterly monopolized the news. But not on Tuesday, when Democrats were boycotting the confirmation hearings of Cabinet nominees and there was a revolt in the State Department and the acting attorney general had just been fired and on and on and on. What we have now isn’t so much a government as a pinball machine — all clanging and pinging and bells and whistles.
At least Trump walked up to the lectern to announce Gorsuch punctually, and at least he ceded the microphone promptly to his nominee. (For a clumsier rendition of this sort of thing, I refer you to Trump’s endless monologue when he formally named Mike Pence as his running mate.)
Still, Trump will be Trump.
“This may be the most transparent judicial selection process in history,” he said, praising himself for providing a list of candidates during his campaign and then sticking with one of the people on it. “I am a man of my word.” Actually, he’s a man of many words, most of them self-congratulatory.
I just wonder what happened to Thomas Hardiman, the runner-up judge, and why he was passed over in the end. Did he lose the swimsuit competition? Does he get a consolation prize?
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