First-off, I will say I was rooting for Donald Trump to select Raymond Kethledge for Supreme Court last week. Kethledge did not roll in the political circles Kavanaugh did which was a major benefit but likely his downfall. That said, Trump’s selection of Kavanaugh was brilliant because it united Never-Trumpers, the establishment, and grassroots and movement conservatives.
Trump could have gone easily with say Amy Coney Barrett. Social Conservatives might jump at the selection but the move would have guaranteed an all-out culture war and probably damaged GOP prospects in November. Instead, Trump took the establishment pick that pleased nobody 100 percent but seems to have pleased almost everybody somewhat.
Kavanaugh was on the list of judges Trump announced during the brutal 2016 campaign to show wavering believers he was a conservative. The list of over 20 judges was a compilation of selections made by conservative think-tanks and his campaign.
Trump gambled picking Kavanaugh at the risk of annoying his base would instead unite the party. Republican elites were elated at the choice. Kavanaugh’s Ivy League (Yale) background, his work in George W Bush’s White House, his tenure on the DC Circuit Court, his work on Ken Star’s Whitewater legal team and the large volume of legal writings he has accumulated over the years, all made him the pragmatic choice for the establishment. Yes, I know, some are now citing the amount of paperwork he has accumulated over the years as a detriment but not knowing where he stood on the issues (no or limited track record) would be just as bad.
Then there are the personal attributes; devoted husband and father of two girls, coach of a Catholic Youth Organization basketball team, and volunteer at charities for the homeless. He cited the diversity of his law clerks, adding, “I am proud that a majority of my law clerks have been women.” Epitomizing the GOP elite’s excitement was Jeb Bush tweeting his approval, “Excellent choice for SCOTUS. Judge Kavanaugh will be a strong defender of the Constitution.”
Kavanaugh also makes Trump’s base happy or if nothing else ambivalent. Steve Bannon noted how strong a choice Kavanaugh was. “This was a very smart pick,” said Bannon in an interview with the Weekly Standard. Bannon was involved in the crafting of “The List” and thus is excited Kavanaugh comes from there.
Among Republicans and Conservatives, the “List” has almost mythical status as a way for a GOP President to finally ensure no longer will unreliable moderates be selected to the High Court. It has the stamp of approval of the Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation, two very establishment think-tanks. Further elaborating on Kavanaugh, Bannon says, “I’m all in. He gives the Court super intellectual firepower. With Gorsuch, Alito, and Kavanaugh, you’re going to have a center of gravity for decades to come, regardless of whether Trump has another pick or not. They’re going to form a conservative intellectual core that will have a profound effect on American life.”
Other approval has been more muted but no less noticeable. Sean Hannity noted the political dimensions of the pick, addressing how Kavanaugh checks off the boxes of approval needed to get the support of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz but also appeals enough to moderates like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. Echoing these themes, Vice President Mike Pence jumped on Rush Limbaugh’s show to address how appealing Kavanaugh is while also being a Constitutional Conservative.
Not everybody is onboard though. For example, thousands of people tweeted on Trump’s official Twitter account how Kavanaugh was a sellout and would be the “next wish-washy middle of the road squish.” Another wrote, “This pick SUCKS.” If we wanted another Bushie swamp creature, we would have voted for Jeb! Kavanaugh is a Roberts-in-the-waiting.” A friend I know on Facebook messaged me the day of the announcement and wrote, “Social Conservatives get shafted again.”
It should be noted how if John Roberts is the right’s version of a squish just how deep past conservative disappointment with Supreme Court picks runs to say nothing of how high their expectations are of a Trump White House. Of course, this should not be surprising considering far more Trump voters ranked the Supreme Court as the most important factor in their vote compared to Clinton supporters.
Other conservative public figures are not so onboard with Kavanuagh though. Former Pennsylvania Senator and Presidential candidate Rick Santorum described Trump’s selection thusly on CNN, “Donald Trump said he was going to energize the base with this pick,”I don’t think he did that . . . [Kavanaugh] is from Washington, he is the establishment pick, he is the Bush pick. . . . It just seems like Trump, in this case, just bowed to the elite in Washington. I think it’s gonna rub a lot of people the wrong way.”
Kavanaugh, due to his tenure, does have skeletons in his closet that some have already picked up on. Some Conservatives have already picked up on them. Mark Levin, speaking for the concerns of some on the right, focused on comments made by Kavanaugh on the ACA noting how he seemed to lay the groundwork for the 2012 Sebelius decision. Saying (Levin), “You have to assume that Kavanaugh would have voted with Roberts on this, because they both came at it from exactly the same position.
He is not Scalia. He is not Thomas. He is not Alito. And in this case, he wasn’t even Kennedy. So, we’ll see. The conservatives on the Judiciary Committee politely and legitimately need to pursue this. This is a big deal. It goes to the issue of textualism, and originalism.”
Interestingly enough, some on the right don’t like Kavanaugh for being involved in the Clinton investigation and failing to go far enough. Andrew Napolitano, on Fox News, tied Kavanaugh to the Starr inquiry and a conspiracy covering up the suicide of Clinton White House deputy counsel Vincent Foster.
The detractors notwithstanding and the conspiracy theorists out there, Kavanaugh is lucky they are unlikely to be a determining factor in his confirmation process. So far, Kavanaugh has managed to win the endorsements of Jeb Bush and Steve Bannon and moderates like Murkowksi, Susan Collins and Libertarians like Rand Paul have signaled comfort with him publicly (though none has confirmed they will support him yet).
This should be a wide enough spectrum to reasonably unite the party and lead to his confirmation. And if any red-state Democrats jump on-board for the final vote….well, that is just gravy!