‘The Super Bowl of politics’: Trump’s team readies for Supreme Court battle
In a sparsely decorated “war room” next to the West Wing on the White House grounds, Trump administration officials have been preparing for the president’s Supreme Court pick with an anything-can-happen approach to the historic task.
With the knowledge that President Donald Trump could change his mind at the last minute — and with the president’s obsession to keep his final decision tightly held — Trump aides and Republicans familiar with the planning told POLITICO they initially were prepping for two possible nominees.
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But as the president continued to talk through his decision over the long weekend at his Bedminster golf club in New Jersey, officials in Washington were poring over research and crafting media-ready soundbites for at least four potential picks.
Ahead of the announcement officials will begin circulating talking points and biographies of a “universe of people” for the court to Capitol Hill and outside allies.
The White House expects to immediately hit the ground running once Trump makes his 9 p.m. announcement on Monday, a time he selected for maximum TV exposure as anticipation grows around the pick. In the first 24 to 36 hours, they’ve mapped out what one aide described as a “meticulous approach” to promote and defend the nominee before opponents have time to define the person in a negative light, using their own words and rulings to rile up their ranks.
Regardless, aides know that Trump’s selection will set off a tense political battle, and activists and Republicans close to the White House have long been positioning for it.
“This confirmation is going to be the Super Bowl of politics in 2018,” said David Bozell, president of the conservative grass-roots organization ForAmerica. Bozell and others believe Trump himself will set the early tone of the process.
“The president has been, by and large, a salesman. And he’s going to try to sell the pick,” he added, referencing a phrase from “Glengarry Glen Ross,” the 1992 movie about real estate agents. “‘Always be closing.’ That’s his mentality.”
Trump on Sunday afternoon made sure to stoke the suspense around his selection. “We are close to making a decision,” the president told reporters, according to a pool report. “It’s, well, let’s just say it’s the four people. Every one you can’t go wrong. I’ll be deciding tonight or tomorrow sometime by 12 o’clock and we’re all gonna be meeting at 9 o’clock, and we have a great country folks.”
Trump and political confidants view his successful seating of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch last year as one of the highlights of his time in office — and a major selling point to constituents as part of the “promises made, promises kept” motif he’s been rolling out at recent rallies ahead of the fall midterms and 2020 reelection.
Would-be nominees getting the most attention through the interview process and coming out of the weekend are Judges Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett and Raymond Kethledge, as well as Thomas Hardiman, the president’s runner-up to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia last year, who is said to be coming on strong after he and Trump hit it off, and amid vetting concerns about the others.
While Kavanaugh was depicted in the media as the early front-runner, privately some Republicans have expressed worries with how long it would take to produce documents about Kavanaugh’s extensive judicial rulings for the Senate to overview. Democrats could request thousands of pages of documents and use the review of his voluminous record in the Bush administration to try and delay his confirmation. His work on the Starr Report dealing with President Bill Clinton’s affair with intern Monica Lewinsky has also has been mentioned.
Kavanaugh overall has been an increasingly frequent target in recent days, though Barrett and Kethledge also are being scrutinized from the right, she for her short time on the federal bench and he for issuing opinions that don’t sit well with anti-illegal immigration hawks. That has cracked the door wider for Hardiman, who has been somewhat of a stealth candidate for the role but comes highly recommended by Maryanne Trump Barry, the president’s sister who serves on the 3rd Circuit alongside Hardiman.
Hardiman’s personal story could be an asset for Trump, who is drawn to a strong narrative. He worked as a taxi cab driver while finishing his studies at the University of Notre Dame then went on to Georgetown University Law Center.
As the jockeying has intensified, aides and allies of the possible nominees — through the media, and other venues — have been locked in what amounts to shadow campaigns on their behalf, disseminating glowing biographies, lists of sources with their contact information as well as documents meant to cast doubt on the character and judicial chops of their opponents.
The White House declined to officially comment.
With the rollout only hours away, some allies insist the administration can’t merely rely presidential persuasion and the talents of its high court nominee this time.