By Bonnie Kristian…TheWeek.com
The necessary and compelling reason to vote for President Trump in 2016, for many white evangelicals and other conservative Republicans, was the Supreme Court. That reason is now gone.
Or it will be soon, if Republican senators can manage to avoid COVID-19 infections long enough to confirm Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination. Hearings on her candidacy begin Monday, and the subsequent vote now enjoys plurality support. Her confirmation can and probably will be done before Election Day, at which point Trump’s SCOTUS voters can — and, on this very basis, should — dump him as swiftly and mercilessly as he’d dump them were they no longer politically useful.
The Supreme Court vote for Trump was never a good rationale for backing him in the 2016 GOP primary, because every other candidate would have produced a very similar SCOTUS nomination shortlist. But once Trump was the party’s chosen champion against Democrat Hillary Clinton, the certainty that the next president would fill at least one seat (replacing the late Justice Antonin Scalia) made the Supreme Court, in the words of pundit Hugh Hewitt, “Trump’s trump card on the #NeverTrumpers.”
A “very liberal SCOTUS means … conservatism is done,” Hewitt argued in a representative case for Trump. “It cannot survive a strong-willed liberal majority on the Supreme Court. Every issue, EVERY issue, will end up there, and the legislatures’ judgments will matter not a bit.” Thus did SCOTUS voters who were otherwise critical of Trump describe backing him anyway on exactly this transactional logic: He would steer the Supreme Court in a better direction than Clinton would, and that was what mattered most.
I was skeptical Trump would deliver the sort of nominee(s) conservative SCOTUS voters wanted, because his personal philosophy of constitutional interpretation — if we should even dignify it with that label — is nothing like the small-government originalism or textualism they favor. But I was wrong. Trump seems to have heeded the Republican establishment here. He’s turned out three nominations very pleasing to this portion of his base: Justice Neil Gorsuch for those with a libertarian edge, Justice Brett Kavanaugh for the executive authoritarians and national security hawks, and now Barrett for the social conservatives (in terms of cultural cachet, at least; her actual bench record is more complex and shows a civil libertarianism that seems to place her between Kavanaugh and Gorsuch on this measure).