Many Republicans who have watched the grotesque, self-parodying campaign of Republican nominee Donald Trump with dismay have resigned themselves to vote for him nonetheless, thus dodging another President Clinton. In particular, they dread the activist jurists she will inevitably appoint to the Court – an urgent situation given the current vacancy and several aging justices.
And Trump has astutely exploited their fear, publishing on May 18 the names of 11 judges, saying he planned “to use this list as a guide to nominate our next United States Supreme Court Justices.” However, he did not actually commit to the names, which his campaign described in a release as a “list of people he would consider.”
The list of proposed justices was warmly received by conservatives. Former top Bush Department lawyer John Yoo wrote, for example, “Everyone on the list is an outstanding legal conservative. All are young, smart, and committed. They would excel in comparison to anyone whom Hillary Clinton would appoint to the Supreme Court.”
But do we really trust that Trump’s justices will be names on the list – or at least be similar in values, reputations, and talents?
Not even close. To understand the folly of depending on Trump’s judges to be better than Hillary’s, think back to the difference in attitude conservatives had regarding Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush on tax increases.
Reagan never told us to read his lips, “No new taxes,” because he didn’t have to. We knew his values and his character, and we trusted that he knew the corrosive effects of tax hikes on individuals, businesses, and the overall economy.
Not so Bush. He declared his solemn promise to fight tax hikes at his spotlight 1988 campaign moment – during his acceptance speech at the Republican convention in New Orleans. He gave his word as splashily as possible because he knew conservatives didn’t trust him.
Those 11 judges are Trump’s “no new taxes” pledge. And we all know how that worked out.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Trump literally “wrote the book” on the art of the deal. Imagine a future Democratic Senate (which could be sworn in as soon as four months from now. He’ll have a long list of policy objectives – from fighting illegal immigration to improved relations with Russia. What’s to stop him from offering a grand bargain where he gets a major legislative trophy in exchange for nominating a justice Democrats like? There is literally nothing conservatives could do to stop him.
And Trump is notoriously mercurial, taking delight in defying expectations. It baffles me to see conservatives trusting him on the Court.
In fact, he’s said some pretty nutty things about possible candidates.
A year ago, he suggsted his sister, a federal judge, would make a “phenomenal” Supreme Court justice. Senior United States Circuit Judge Maryanne Trump, who once wrote a decision supporting a constitutionality protected right to partial-birth abortion, is nobody’s idea of a conservative. But Trump scoffed at even knowing what she believed, saying “I’ve never asked her views, I don’t want to ask her views, I don’t think it’s appropriate.”
Many kinds of qualifications can make a good Supreme Court justice. Sharing the same mother with the president doing the nominating is not one of them. In fact, it should rule her out.
The whole episode showed how Trump does not understand the gravity of Supreme Court appointments.
Hillary reshaping the Supreme Court in her image is terrifying, and if Trump could be trusted to fortify a conservative Court for the next generation, that would be a legitimate reason to consider voting for him. But he’s given us nothing more than a flimsy piece of paper he’ll quickly disregard when a higher priority – or just something new and shiny – comes along.
The mantra of “the courts” has been a lazy way for conservatives to justify avoiding even considering a vote against the worst Republican nominee in a century. But Trump’s judges can’t be trusted, as anyone who really thinks it through knows. So the Supreme Court should be off the table as a reasonable factor in choosing a candidate.
That leaves us with Trump, who has taken repeated enthusiastic steps so noxious to the spirit of our nation that any one of them should rule him out as a possible contender. Examples: he kicks reporters out of his rallies, pledges to commit war crimes, and readily raises the specter of violence to achieve his political goals. Then we Clinton, have a career politician whose love of government and glaring character deficits are maddening – but not terribly different from what we’ve seen before from her party.
Voting for Hillary is a hard but inevitable decision for any patriotic conservative who realizes the Supreme Court is in danger either way – and thus the well-being of the country, broadly considered, matters most.
David Benkof is Senior Political Analyst for the Daily Caller. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.