Following the death of Supreme Court justice and liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg, President Donald Trump and his political aides have arrived at their apotheosis of owning the libs.
For the final two months of the 2020 presidential blitz against Joe Biden, Team Trump plans to hammer away at the new Supreme Court vacancy—gleeful at the angst it will cause on the left and shrugging off prospects that it could incite even more civil unrest across the country. They believe that the end result will be further juicing of their base turnout and, in turn, the rescuing of their campaign in an increasingly difficult race.
Trump’s latest messaging reset comes at a time when GOP operatives and prominent party allies are thrilled to divert attention from other major issues that have threatened to doom Republicans this November: mainly, the president’s disastrous response to the coronavirus pandemic, and his equally hamfisted handling of widespread protests against racism in policing that have raged for months.
“The president has said he wants this to be the biggest issue driving his campaign for the next two months. Period,” said a senior administration official. “Frankly, there’s no reason it shouldn’t… He has said this is a fight that will define his legacy.”
Three other sources familiar with Team Trump’s strategic planning in the past few days said that power centers of the campaign have rapidly shifted to make the Supreme Court vacancy afforded by Ginsburg’s death their primary push before the November election. As of early this weekend, massive fundraising drives on the topic are being plotted. A taste of that came Sunday night, when the campaign sent out an email with the subject line, “One Question” and the preheader: “Should President Trump nominate a Supreme Court Justice before the Election?” Earlier in the day, the campaign was claiming that its “FILL THAT SEAT” T-shirts were “SELLING FAST!” from a limited edition set.
In addition to the race for dollars, different event ideas for the president are being brainstormed, geared specifically around the forthcoming Supreme Court battle. And Trump has said that his conservative allies need to be prepared for Democrats to go scorched earth, especially given what happened during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, and that they must be prepared to fight “even harder” between now and the end of Trump’s first term, the senior administration official recounted.
“This court vacancy could not have come at a more opportune time. It is a stark reminder to the president’s evangelical base of why they voted for him by such a huge margin in 2016,” Robert Jeffress, a Dallas megachurch pastor and a key informal faith adviser to President Trump, said on Sunday afternoon. “The coronavirus and the endless negative Trump books and allegations have become background noise between now and November 3.”
If Trump is itching to make the Ginsburg seat the epicenter of his re-election bid, Democrats seem primed for the battle. Since Friday evening, liberal politicians, lawmakers, and grassroots activists across the nation have been readying themselves for all-out warfare, with implications that could be felt both in this election and long after Trump is out of office. The Democratic fundraising portal ActBlue reported seeing historic numbers of online donations coming in. And various opinion polls showed the public largely in favor of waiting until after the election for the Supreme Court confirmation process to begin.
Even some longtime conservatives said they did not believe the vacancy was the silver bullet that so much of Trumpworld seems to think it is.
“If you weren’t planning to vote before, you aren’t planning to vote now. For every living, breathing human being planning on participating in 2020, it will have no impact on the vote,” predicted Frank Luntz, a famed GOP pollster and Trump-critical conservative. “There are still people who think the Supreme Court is led by Diana Ross. I do not think this will have a huge impact on the election; I do think it will have a significant impact on the debates… because this is the rare time when one branch of government will directly impact another.”
Luntz continued, “You need an independent arbiter after this election. A 4-4 split [on the Supreme Court during a contested election], it is very frightening to me. I never took seriously we were headed toward a constitutional crisis. For the first time, I can finally conceive of it.”
So too can Democrats. On Sunday, Biden urged Senate Republicans to de-escalate the looming crisis by putting off a confirmation fight. A day prior, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told participants on a caucus conference call: “If Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans move forward with this, then nothing is off the table for next year,” according to a source on the call. “Nothing is off the table.”
As for explicit Democratic threats about potentially expanding the number of Supreme Court justices as retaliation against Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the president’s political orbit have been dismissing those threats all weekend.
“Democrats have long been talking about packing the court so this is nothing new,” Tim Murtaugh, Trump 2020’s communications director, wrote to The Daily Beast. “What’s next, will they threaten to set cities on fire? Oh, wait…”
The coming Trump messaging onslaught on filling the court seat before the inauguration early next year has offered some salvation for Trump’s operation at a time when the president had already run through several other messaging reboots.
As the U.S. COVID-19 body count approached 200,000 dead and the economy remained far behind its pre-pandemic heights, President Trump couldn’t help but focus his time and his administration’s resources on personal hobby horses and Fox News-fueled ideological obsessions. He still keeps himself up to date on news regarding the NFL’s television ratings. He’s routinely trashed Twitter’s trending algorithm, alleging that it is politically nasty and unfair to him and his supporters. Last week, Trump announced his planned formation of a commission to defend “patriotic education” and “pro-American curriculum” in U.S. schools, in response to academics who’ve wanted the system to more thoroughly teach the history of systemic racism in American institutions, slavery, and other matters. Early this month, he was focused on telling voters how good his brain still is, according to him.
The levels of his distraction were so pronounced, that earlier this summer, he personally became involved in his campaign-trail song choices.
In late June, shortly after the president walked off the stage to the sounds of the Rolling Stones classic “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” at his disastrous Tulsa, Oklahoma, campaign reboot, The Rolling Stones blasted out a statement threatening a lawsuit if Trump and his team didn’t finally—after roughly half-a-decade of the band asking him to knock it off—stop including their music at his rallies and public events. For now, it seems the Stones have won, with their music conspicuously evaporating since from the Trump 2020 playlist. According to two people familiar with the situation, this was a decision in which President Trump was intimately involved and one that he personally (and “begrudgingly,” according to one of the knowledgeable sources) greenlit weeks ago. Following the Stones’ threat to sue, Trump directed his campaign to remove “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and instead slot in The Village People’s 1978 smash-hit song, “Y.M.C.A.” as his walk-off number. He has privately said that he chose that particular number in large part because “everyone” loves that song, one of the sources said.
But this week, Trump’s top campaign and White House advisers aren’t as worried about giving the president his guiding principle for the remainder of the 2020 race. “From here on out, it’s going to be SCOTUS, SCOTUS, SCOTUS,” said one senior campaign official. “It’s the most clarifying moment of this whole campaign and the choice could not be clearer…between the two candidates’ competing visions for the country.”