Coincidentally, many of them work in or have ties to important battleground states.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah
Neil Gorsuch, a judge of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals
Margaret Ryan, a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces
Edward Mansfield, a justice of the Iowa Supreme Court
Keith Blackwell, a justice of the Georgia Supreme Court
Charles Canady, a justice of the Florida Supreme Court
Timothy Tymkovich, chief judge of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals
Amul Thapar, a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky
Frederico Moreno, a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida
Robert Young, chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court
You’ll find short biographies of each here — although Canady’s doesn’t mention that, as a Republican congressman in the late 1990s, he was one of the House managers who oversaw the impeachment effort against Bill Clinton. Most of the public might not remember him for that. The Clintons will. Diversity is also a theme, with Indian, Latino, and black jurists represented. Trump even made sure to include a veteran on the list. Margaret Ryan served in the Marine Corps before becoming a clerk for Clarence Thomas and then an appellate judge herself.
The big name, though, is Lee. Why would Trump float one of his biggest antagonists in the party, a guy who joined the abortive “Free the Delegates” insurrection in Cleveland and who, to this day, has refused to endorse Trump for various reasons, from his big-government tendencies to his demagoging Muslims to his personal attacks on Ted Cruz? Partly, I think, it’s a sop to conservatives generally and to Utah conservatives specifically. Trump should end up winning that state easily but he’s been weak there and might worry that the combo of Gary Johnson and Evan McMullin could pull enough votes away from him to make Clinton competitive. Naming Lee is a gesture of conciliation.
But maybe there’s another reason:
Mike Lee inclusion is an obvious play for Ted Cruz endorsement. https://t.co/GOUqSjG10l
— Ben Domenech (@bdomenech) September 23, 2016
Lee is Cruz’s BFF in the Senate and the Trump campaign has been nudging Cruz lately to finally come aboard and endorse. If Cruz is holding out on grounds that Trump isn’t conservative enough, Trump naming Mike Lee as a potential Supreme Court justice is a quick and easy way to remedy that. An even quicker and easier way would have been to float Cruz himself as a potential nominee, but maybe the politics of that wouldn’t have worked. If Trump had put Cruz on the list and then Cruz had endorsed, it would have looked like a venal quid pro quo by Cruz, with Trump having essentially purchased his endorsement by dangling a plum job offer in front of him. If Cruz is going to cave now, he needs to be able to save face by framing his endorsement in terms of principle. Putting Lee on the list instead of him is the perfect way to make that happen.
How about Lee himself, though? Is he going to bite on this? According to his spokesman, nope Why would he? Trump obviously isn’t going to nominate a critic if he’s president next year.
The Utah senator remains unmoved on Trump, even after the new list was made public.
“Sen. Lee already has the job he wants which is why he is campaigning to represent the great people of Utah again this year,” Lee’s communications director, Conn Carroll, said in a statement Friday. “This does not change Sen. Lee’s mind about Trump in any way whatsoever.”
Interestingly, Lee isn’t the only Trump critic to end up on a Trump SCOTUS shortlist. Justice Don Willett of the Texas Supreme Court used to goof on Trump during the primaries on his (very lively) Twitter account — until Trump named him as a potential nominee, which mostly put an end to the goofing. It’s highly un-Trump-y of the big guy to reward his detractors by pronouncing them fit to join the Court, but if it helps to buy their silence, maybe it’s worth something to him. Lee has, in fact, been lying pretty low in his criticism of Trump since the convention. I’m curious now to see if he follows Cruz when Cruz finally takes the plunge and endorses Trump.
Anyway, Chris Cillizza is right about why this is a smart move. The Supreme Court isn’t Trump’s best argument to most of the electorate — this is — but it’s certainly his best to Trump skeptics on the right. He’s reminding Republicans of the stakes of the election before the debates begin on Monday. There’ll be no Mike Lees on a Hillary Clinton Court, needless to say.