McConnell and other top Republicans will argue that this is a most pleasant September surprise, an occasion to pad the president’s resume with another signature achievement that he can sell to voters. They will tell him this is about reinvigorating parts of the base that have lost their zeal—and warn him that some conservatives will revolt if he doesn’t deliver immediately. They will swear that confirming another Supreme Court justice on the eve of the election will serve as an exclamation-point reminder to Republicans of why their vote matters.
But will the president buy it? It’s important to recognize that Trump fancies himself the ultimate driver of hard bargains. He could be persuaded that delivering in good faith is the surest way to motivate and mobilize his voters. Then again, informed by the experience of 2016—and polling to suggest slippage among some of those voters—he could become convinced that keeping them hungry is the only guarantee of earning their support. After all, what kind of negotiator throws away a bargaining chip? What kind of salesman gives away something that’s priceless?
Naturally, it’s not as though Trump can come out and say as much. But there are ways for the famously disorganized administration to intentionally drag its feet, to slow the process enough so that it’s close enough for voters to smell a new Supreme Court justice but not close enough for the Senate to confirm one. This could even be done with the blessing of McConnell.