With the midterm cycle kicking into high gear, President Trump knows that he needs to remind his base of how much they need him — and a Republican Senate — to fulfill their dreams of reshaping the judiciary. And that means grabbing their attention and getting them fired up about the coming confirmation battle. And if there’s anything Mr. Trump knows how to do, it’s rile up his base.
Indeed, while profoundly unqualified and unsuited for the presidency in most ways, Mr. Trump does grasp the salesmanship part of the job. He is a born carnival barker, with a flair for hype and drama that would have wowed P.T. Barnum. And he understands that, for many in his base, this court pick is the main event — the primary reason they bought a ticket to his show.
And the big winner of this installment of The Apprentice: Supreme Court Edition is … Brett Kavanaugh, judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and full-fledged creature of the conservative judicial establishment. Cue the standing ovation, please, and let the confirmation cage match begin.
Seating Justice Neil Gorsuch was sweet, but that merely restored the ideological balance endangered by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. With Mr. Kavanaugh, a solid conservative majority promises to be locked in for decades, fulfilling a conservative dream itself decades in the making. There was no way Mr. Trump was going to miss an opportunity to milk the reveal for all it was worth.
Monday was the kind of day that the president lives for. As the clock ticked down to the announcement of his new Supreme Court nominee, the entire political world hovered in a state of suspended animation and frenzied speculation. Had the president made his decision yet? Who had he chosen? Would his pick get leaked ahead of time? Had any of the top finalists been seen anywhere near the White House?
With all of the build up to the 9 p.m. announcement, it’s a miracle none of the political commentators’ heads exploded from the suspense. The entire production was, in short, classic Trump — an overhyped, self-aggrandizing display aimed at focusing the spotlight on himself for reasons of both personal gratification and political expedience.
For days, the president had teased the press and public about when he would be making his court pick known. As he did with last year’s nomination of Justice Gorsuch, Mr. Trump chose the shank of the televisual evening for his official announcement. And as they did with Mr. Gorsuch, the major networks shuffled their prime-time schedules to accommodate the drama. As the president well knows, an event of this magnitude must be covered, even if it means interrupting more conventional reality fare like “The Bachelorette” and “American Ninja Warrior.”
The president kept a lid on the news until time for The Big Reveal, no small feat for a White House typically leakier than a busted toilet.This just whipped the media into an even greater frenzy — as, of course, Mr. Trump knew it would. “I’m getting very close to making a final decision,” the president teased on Sunday.
By 5 p.m. Monday, four hours before the scheduled announcement, the cable networks were breathlessly trumpeting that the president had made his decision. Twitter buzzed with talk of which finalists had been spotted where and which conservative commentators had been briefed on which candidate.
By 8:00, the media had whittled the short list even shorter, to Mr. Kavanaugh and Thomas Hardiman, with Mr. Kavanaugh the emerging favorite. But even then, some commentators wondered if this was all an elaborate head fake. Priming the pump, just after 8:30, the White House tweeted out a snippet of video, grandly scored, with a camera cinematically sweeping down a red-carpeted hallway of the White House and into the East Room, where an empty podium stood ready for the president. Message: This is going to be big.
But in the end, the ceremony itself wasn’t big — or even terribly grand. Spot on at 9:00,first lady Melania Trump strode into the East Room, prompting a standing ovation from the assembled crowd of Republican eminences. At 9:01, Mr. Trump followed, blue tie crisply knotted, comb-over firmly secured. He greeted the crowd, opined about the importance of appointing justices, noted that this was his second such appointment, introduced a couple of conservative celebs in the audience (Justice Scalia’s widow and Ed Meese, former attorney general for President Ronald Reagan), then did a brief introduction of Mr. Kavanaugh. All told, the president spoke for less than 10 minutes — impressive brevity for a typically attention-hungry rambler. Mr. Kavanaugh kept things equally brief, and deadly dull. By 9:18, the whole shebang was over and America had returned to watching its regularly scheduled programs.
Obviously, Mr. Trump likes — or rather, needs — to be the center of attention. Most narcissists do. And nothing seems to delight him quite so much as ratcheting up the suspense when he has an important decision to make. But there is also a larger political purpose to his creating such a spectacle out of what is an important but, ultimately, not terribly suspenseful announcement. (After all, it’s not as if the president was going to go rogue and name someone not preapproved by conservative groups like the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.)
Of course, while tantalizing his base was the primary goal, Mr. Trump also revels in holding his opponents hostage while he struts the stage in his victory dance. The more members of the opposition who tuned in to hate-watch Monday’s announcement, the better.
Say what you will about the president, he knows how to capture an audience.
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