Trump: Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and Tom Cotton are now on my Supreme Court shortlist

My favorite theory on social media this afternoon of why three aspiring presidents are suddenly SCOTUS candidates is that Trump’s trying to clear the 2024 field for Don Jr (or Ivanka).

In that case, presumably Nikki Haley and Tucker Carlson are in the mix as well.

You can view the whole list here. Most of the names are unfamiliar to me, but Ed Whelan’s right that Neomi Rao is a notable omission. Not only is she young, female, and a minority, she harshly criticized Judge Emmet Sullivan for his “unlawful incursions on the Executive Branch” in the Mike Flynn case. How much more loyalty does she need to show Trump to earn some Supreme Court consideration?

It’s common for presidents to consider solicitors general for the Court and Trump has two esteemed ones on his list, Paul Clement and Noel Francisco. Both are over 50, though, which may be a teeny bit older than Trump would prefer with a lifetime appointment on the line. Kentucky AG Daniel Cameron is also on the list, an interesting choice since Mitch McConnell clearly has him lined up to run for governor or succeed him in the Senate in a few years. Cameron is only 34 years old, though, and lacks the judicial experience or top-flight clerkships that would normally qualify someone for the Court. I think he’s on the list as a courtesy, as thanks for speaking at the Republican convention.

Same goes for Cruz, Hawley, and Cotton. There’s probably nothing serious behind adding them to the list, just a bit of free media buzz as thanks for being loyal soldiers in the Senate. And it’s a way to signal to MAGA fans that Trump is fond of the same populist bombthrowers that they are. The average Fox-watcher won’t know what to make of most people on his list but they all have an opinion about these three and that opinion’s apt to be positive. I laughed when I saw Hawley’s inclusion, not because he’s unqualified but because he very clearly has his eye on another job. He went to Yale Law, clerked for John Roberts, and served as a state AG; at just 40 years old, he’s an appealing candidate. But Hawley’s not inveighing against Section 230 and heavy-breathing about leaving military bases named after Confederates because he wants a seat on the Court. He wants Trump’s job. So much so that he’s *already* taken himself out of the running for the Court after Trump announced his list:

Cotton seems like a less likely choice. He has a gilded legal education too, from Harvard Law, but no Supreme Court clerkship or AG credentials. I doubt that he’s interested in a Court seat either, as he’s been to Iowa more than once over the past four years and visited New Hampshire a few months ago. A guy whose chief contribution to politics this summer was egging on Trump to deploy regular troops against looters also seems more inclined temperamentally to the electoral, not the judicial, side of American government. And yet, after Trump announced his list this afternoon, Cotton tweeted this:

I don’t think he’s trying out for a nomination — clearly there are people ahead of him on Trump’s list, like Amy Coney Barrett and Amul Thapar — but Trump just handed him an opportunity to show off his conservative cred to future primary voters. So he seized it.

The most interesting possibility is Cruz. He has top-flight credentials too — Harvard, clerked for Rehnquist — although he either doesn’t understand how Section 230 works or is too dishonest in his pandering to populists to admit that he does. What makes him interesting is that I think he’ll end up as yesterday’s news in a 2024 primary. Trumpers don’t really trust him after 2016 and he’ll have lots of competition for the populist vote this time from Hawley, Cotton, and others. His “constitutional conservative” shtick *might* come back into vogue during a Biden presidency but there’s no reason to believe there’ll be a clamor for it on the right in 2024 if Trump wins a second term. And Cruz is 49; if he has any dreams of being on the Court, it would probably have to happen before 2024 or else he’ll age out of the pool for a future Republican president. So if Trump offered him a nomination in, say, 2022, might he take it? Remember that Texas is turning bluer and Cruz barely survived against Beto O’Rourke in 2018. It’s quite possible if not likely that he’ll be out of government by 2025 — unless he lands a job with a lifetime appointment.

He should forget his presidential pipe dream and lobby for the Court. He’d be acceptable in that role even to MAGA types.

Exit question: Could any of these three get confirmed by the Senate? One of the reasons to look at senators when considering a Court or cabinet appointment is that, traditionally, they might be expected to squeeze a few more votes in favor out of the opposition in the spirit of senatorial comity. I’m not so sure that expectation still holds in 2020, though. It’ll probably take 50 Republicans to push any of them over the line. And you never know what Romney, Collins, or Murkowski might do.