Three days ago the alleged finalists were Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, but that was before Trump began interviewing shortlisters. And the interview with Raymond Kethledge reportedly went very, very well.
.@FoxNews is told that @realDonaldTrump has completed the interview process for his @USSupremeCourt pick. Raymond Kethledge and Brett Kavanaugh are said to be the front-runners to replace Justice Kennedy. Announcement Monday night.
— John Roberts (@johnrobertsFox) July 5, 2018
If anyone’s well positioned to know that the winds have changed in the West Wing, it’s a Fox News reporter. And if anything’s likely to boost a shortlister overnight, it’s making a good face-to-face impression on Trump. A more ideological president might look past that sort of thing to more nuts-and-bolts concerns about the nominee’s jurisprudence, but with Trump “personal chemistry” is key. A White House official involved in vetting the nominees told Axios that Trump’s likely to tilt towards “who he feels most comfortable with in a personal setting,” which would explain Kethledge’s stock rising. Although in fairness to POTUS, it’s not like Kethledge is any weaker ideologically than the competition. If Trump can get someone whom he likes personally and whom righties will like on the bench, so much the better.
An interesting footnote via Politico: Apparently Ted Cruz is bearish on Kavanaugh.
Conservatives have also fixated on a 2011 challenge to Obamacare in which Kavanaugh ruled that the individual mandate functioned as a tax and invoked an 1867 law preventing individuals from challenging taxes before they have gone into effect. (The individual mandate went into effect in 2014.) But he also advised that, whatever its constitutional shortcomings, “Congress could eliminate any such potential problem.”…
On a call with associates on Monday, Cruz warned that Kavanaugh is the sort of “unreliable” jurist by whom Republicans have been disappointed in the past, and he has worked to bolster the prospects of his colleague, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) also spoke to the president about the merits and drawbacks of each nominee, including Kavanaugh.
Cruz can stump for Lee all he wants but Lee’s not going to be the nominee and may not even be in serious contention. What’s his beef with Kavanaugh, though? It must be more than that one ObamaCare ruling, which Kavanaugh defenders like Ed Whelan have argued has been misunderstood. What’s strange about Cruz’s opposition is that he and Kavanaugh have had parallel careers to some extent. They’re roughly the same age (Kavanaugh’s a few years older), both Ivy League law grads, both Supreme Court clerks, both worked on the Florida recount in 2000, both served in the Bush administration in Dubya’s first term. They’ve come out of the same conservative professional legal culture and that culture is very high on Kavanaugh. If anything, you’d think Cruz would be out in front recommending him as the next best choice after Lee. Is there history between the two that explains his chilliness?
As for Barrett’s stock dipping, maybe her interview with Trump didn’t go as well as Kethledge’s did. Possibly Trump is worried that Barrett’s reputation, fair or not, as a pro-life warrior will end up spooking Collins and Murkowski and he’ll be dealt an embarrassing defeat in confirmation. Or maybe he’s calculating that he’ll get to appoint Ginsburg’s successor and wants to “save” a woman nominee for that spot, knowing that public pressure to fill Ginsburg’s seat with a female will be particularly intense. It’s unlike him to pass on a chance to instigate a nationwide culture-war street fight, which is what nominating Barrett would do. But if anything could make that fight more vicious, waiting to nominate Barrett as a replacement for the left’s feminist hero would do it. It would be a supreme act of clawing back cultural territory from the other side, practically a provocation. Maybe he’ll announce The Purge on the same day and let Americans really have it out for a day or two.
Or maybe Barrett’s stock hasn’t dipped. Per WaPo, she’s one of three finalists, not two:
back on the SCOTUS search beat today. The top 3 contenders as of 9:30 a.m., per GOP and WH sources: Kavanaugh, Kethledge, Coney Barrett
— Robert Costa (@costareports) July 5, 2018
I’d wager on Kethledge. If it’s true that people like Cruz are warning Trump about Kavanaugh, Trump’s not going to roll the dice on him. The one thing he’s done as president that’s united the right entirely was appoint Neil Gorsuch; naturally he wants another nominee in that mold, not someone who’s going to attract ominous grumbles from movement conservatives from the start and maybe end up knifing conservatives on a major case while on the bench. Kethledge seems to be a safer pick despite a last-minute effort by some border hawks to paint him as soft on immigration. There’s a piece answering that charge at NRO today that’s worth your while. One last thing per Axios: Although Trump has said he’ll announce the nominee on Monday, sources say they wouldn’t be surprised if he changed his mind and broke the news early once he’s settled on someone. Don’t wander too far from a computer or TV over the next few days.