A large number of evangelicals backed Donald Trump, many begrudgingly, because of the United States Supreme Court. One in five voters in November went to the polls because of the Supreme Court, and sixty percent of them voted for Donald Trump. The vacancy caused by the tragic death of Antonin Scalia will make or break Donald Trump with his base, and there are signs of great turbulence.
The two choices are Neil Gorsuch and Thomas Hardiman. Gorsuch is an intellectual heavyweight with an extensive conservative trail, writings on life and euthanasia, and known Scalia-like tendencies. He is the expected nominee. Hardiman is more nebulous and is the sudden contender. While most do not think he would be a Souter, there is a real fear he could be another Anthony Kennedy. Personally, because Neil Gorsuch looks like a judge summoned from central casting, I suspect that gives him an advantage with Donald Trump, who is known to value looks and demeanor.
What we do know for sure is that the anti-immigration voters who backed Donald Trump view Hardiman as bad on immigration. Hardiman is rumored to have worked pro bono in the past for immigrants. Already some of Trump’s vocal supporters, such as Ann Coulter, are loudly complaining that Thomas Hardiman would be the “Jeb Bush” of Supreme Court nominees.
At the same time, evangelicals are more comfortable with Gorsuch because they know what they are getting. They feel burned by the illustrious Republican nominees David Souter, Anthony Kennedy, and John Roberts. Gorsuch is an originalist in the mold of Scalia and Hardiman appears that way, but some are concerned.
If Donald Trump picks Thomas Hardiman, his most vocal supporters will loudly proclaim it a genius pick for the ages. In fact, they may get a term or two of comfort. But if Hardiman “grows” in office, that growth would occur as Trump is up for re-election. It could damage him. The reason evangelicals supported him will have evaporated.
The conventional wisdom in Washington is that Donald Trump will go with Neil Gorsuch. Regardless of who he picks, Democrats already say they will filibuster, which gives Mitch McConnell the perfect pretext to abolish the Supreme Court filibuster.
If Republicans cannot get a Scalia equivalent through a Republican controlled Senate for Scalia’s seat, the base of the GOP will turn even more violently against its elected officials. And if Donald Trump moderates on Supreme Court picks, we may need to start calling him Robespierre.