Critic's Notebook: Gorsuch and Trump Play Good Cop, Bad Cop at SCOTUS Announcement

Donald Trump Supreme Court Nom_Neil Gorsuch_2 - H 2017
Screengrab/The White House

Despite his courtly, mild-mannered demeanor, Trump's Supreme Court pick is as conservative as they come.

President Donald Trump handed Judge Neil Gorsuch the rose and sent Judge Thomas Hardiman home in a Bachelor-style ceremony at the White House on Tuesday night. Supreme Court nominees are usually introduced via quietly tasteful announcements, but “quietly” and “tasteful” are not words with which Trump is familiar. As usual, he turned the solemn occasion into a reality show cliffhanger carried live by the major television networks that, thanks to Trump, are now suddenly concerned with all things presidential.

The announcement was delivered a couple of days earlier than expected, with the result that everyone is now saying, “Muslim ban? What Muslim ban?” Trump is like a magician practicing the art of misdirection, and it may sadly result in a population that will simply get tired of trying to figure out where the coin went.

In an East Room filled with joyful Republicans, Trump strode to the podium like a man who’s never doubted a decision he's made in his life. “I am a man of my word,” he announced, which means we should really believe him when he said that he grabbed women’s private parts. “Was that a surprise? Was it?” he asked after announcing Gorsuch’s pick, even while the nation is beginning to accept that they may never be surprised again. He stressed the importance of picking the right Supreme Court judge because their decisions “can often be permanent” — except, of course, when it comes to Roe v. Wade.

Saying that he had “studied the writings of the nominee closely” — yes, it’s easy to imagine Trump pulling an all-nighter reading complex legal decisions — he glowingly introduced his pick. He cited Gorsuch for having attended Columbia, Harvard and Oxford Universities — no underachiever there — and that he was born and raised in Colorado, which makes him, you know, a real American.

“I only hope that both Democrats and Republicans can come together for once, for the good of the country,” Trump declared, which would have sounded noble except that the body of his recently fired Democrat attorney general’s body was still warm. “The podium, sir, is yours,” he grandly told Gorsuch, which may be the first time those words have sprung from Trump’s mouth.

Gorsuch, a veteran 10th Circuit judge, is as conservative as they come, closely resembling Trump’s professed hero Antonin Scalia in both philosophy and formidable intellect. His decisions in the Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor cases made clear his position when it comes to defending religious liberty (although to be fair, how could anyone not side with an organization called Little Sisters of the Poor?). Like Scalia, he’s an originalist, meaning that he believes the Constitution wasn’t drafted by men who were slave owners, fought duels and shot muskets, but was brought down the mountain by Moses along with the Ten Commandments.

But as soon as Gorsuch began speaking, Democrats knew they were in trouble. The judge was dignified and soft-spoken, modestly saying that he was “acutely aware of my own imperfections.” And amazingly, he didn’t breathe fire.

“When we judges don our robes, it doesn’t make us any smarter,” he pointed out, and suddenly Tom Hanks began to seem like perfect casting for the Hollywood biopic. “A judge who likes every outcome he reaches is very likely a bad judge,” he continued, and you could imagine Charles Schumer breaking into a cold sweat. “I consider the United States Senate the greatest deliberative body in the world,” he declared, in one of the most artful examples of sucking up ever seen in Washington, and that’s saying something. Gorsuch is well known for his opposition to assisted suicide, which ironically could prove beneficial to morbidly depressed liberals. If you were a progressive, it made you feel the burning necessity for going over to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s house every day with a container of chicken soup.

Ted Cruz was on hand to comment afterward, demonstrating his steadfast moral fiber by saying, “Today was the most important decision President Trump has made in his first two weeks in office.” But he was probably just relieved that Trump wasn’t ordering the intelligence agencies to investigate his father’s role in the Kennedy assassination. Cruz also decried the “unprecedented partisan obstruction” by the Democrats, which is pretty rich coming from a man who vehemently opposed even considering Merrick Garland.

Lindsay Graham was equally supportive of the choice, or as he so eloquently put it, “I’m mucho happy about this pick.” He pointed out that it was only fair that Democrats vote for Gorsuch because, “I took a lot of crap voting for Obama’s judges,” although he undercut his case by adding, “If I have any charm, it’s being me.”  

Congressman Mo Brooks also weighed in, saying, “Ultimately it comes down to who was elected president of the United States and who has the right to nominate people.” Except, for course, when it comes to a president who’s a Democrat.

Fox’s Bill O’Reilly delivered a detailed lecture about constitutional law, and he certainly knows what he’s talking about, because, as he strangely mentioned numerous times, he once had dinner with Scalia. Bret Baier chimed in, saying that if the Senate employed the “nuclear option” to get rid of the filibuster, only 51 votes would be required to confirm Gorsuch’s nomination.

“Fifty one…that’s fifty, plus one,” Baier helpfully explained.

(By the way, can we find another term beside “nuclear option” for this legislative rule change? With Trump calling for more nukes and Kim Jong-un threatening to test intercontinental ballistic missiles, we’re all jittery enough.)

O’Reilly expressed doubts that Democrats’ “vicious hit groups” would be able to derail the nomination. “I don’t know how you can smear a guy like that,” he said about Gorsuch, and if anyone should know, O’Reilly would. Correspondent Shannon Bream pointed out that Gorsuch would become the target of the “pro-choice industry,” as if it was a company that issued stocks.

You could only imagine what Garland was thinking while all this was going on. Interviewed on MSNBC, former Obama adviser Danielle Gray certainly couldn’t. “I hope he’s not watching it,” she said in a concerned tone. It’s safe to say that plenty of Americans, well aware that this ultra-conservative judge may sit on the highest court of the land for decades to come, were no doubt wishing that they weren’t watching it either.