Donald Trump promised to bring some pizzazz to the White House. And last night he delivered, unveiling his selection for a vacant Supreme Court seat on prime time TV after teasing the American public with a reality show style whittling down of candidates. His selection, the Oxford-educated Neil Gorsuch, is an established legal mind who will sit well with Republicans.
It was the sort of night Trump needed after a torrid weekend, when the bungled roll-out of an immigration overhaul energised his opponents and exposed divisions in the White House. As the new president arrived on a red carpet before Congressional Republican leaders, he reminded them exactly why he won the election, combining his populist instincts with a rock solid conservative choice for Supreme Court justice. Even Ted Cruz called the choice a 'home run'.
Although Gorsuch was the red hot favourite, Trump had used skills honed from years of 'The Apprentice' to keep his audience in the dark. CNN reported that both Gorsuch and Thomas Hardiman, a judge in Pennsylvania and Trump’s other contender, were travelling to Washington. As tension grew, the station tracked Hardiman to a petrol station where he was trying to fill his car. He declined to comment. With clocks counting down to 8pm breathless TV anchors discussed the 'big reveal', the culmination of a very public process that began with Trump’s first list of candidates in May last year.
The announcement had been scheduled for Thursday but was hurried forward by a couple of days, presumably to wrest focus away from protests against the administration’s treatment of refugees and travellers from Muslim countries. As a result, Trump dominated much of the day’s news even before he paced down the red carpet to announce his selection. He arrived alone, breaking with the tradition that the president arrives with his nominee. 'Was that a surprise,' he asked gleefully after naming Gorsuch, 'Was it?'.
As you may expect, Gorsuch will not be well liked by Democrats. He has complained of people using the Supreme Court rather than legislatures to advance social issues, such as gay marriage. And he has backed Christian employers who did not want to have to offer contraception to workers, one of the requirements of health plans under Obamacare. But he replaces another Conservative – Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last year – maintaining the balance of the bench.
Democrats must decide whether they have the stomach to fight his confirmation in the Senate. They may conclude it is more important to keep their powder dry for more pivotal future battles. The oldest members of the bench are, after all, liberals – Anthony Kennedy, 80, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, 83. But the happy smiles of Congressional Republicans gathered in the East Room said it all. Trump had brought them there for a reason. And he delivered giving them a solid selection in what his most consequential decision so far, a Supreme Court judge who could serve for 50 years.
Most of the Senators and Representatives had backed other candidates during the campaign, arriving more or less grudgingly at the last man standing. During the past whirlwind weekend, many must have been wondering whether their populist president understood how politics in Washington worked. Several wondered it aloud to reporters. How long the feeling will last is anyone’s guess, but Trump’s showmanship and canny selection have given him his best day so far.