And yet, for all of the good these conservatives believe Barrett will do for America, at least some of them acknowledge that they paid a price for her nomination: Her name will always be tied to Trump’s, and to the erosion of democratic norms he has accelerated. For now, the Republican Party has largely accepted this trade-off. Although Sasse has some history of making skeptical comments about Trump, sentiments like his are rarely expressed on the record by Senate Republicans. But when Trump is gone, whether in four months or four years, conservatives will be left to wrestle with deep disagreements about how the movement got here, and what comes next. For those who loathe the fruit of the Trump era, Barrett makes some of the damage worth it. “The cake is already baked,” one senior Hill staffer told me. “At least you get a judge out of it.”…

Trump complicated the story conservatives tell about themselves. He quickly perceived that Republican voters care less about philosophical concepts like originalism, the method many conservatives favor for interpreting the Constitution, than getting the Supreme Court to protect a checklist of right-wing views: “We need NEW JUSTICES of the Supreme Court,” Trump tweeted this summer. “If the Radical Left Democrats assume power, your Second Amendment, Right to Life, Secure Borders, and … Religious Liberty, among many other things, are OVER and GONE!” Some senators have openly adopted the president’s logic: Josh Hawley, a rising Republican star from Missouri, has said all Supreme Court nominees need to be on the record stating that Roe was wrongly decided. There’s evidence that ideology already shapes the way justices decide cases. Researchers have found that in 5–4 decisions, where each justice’s vote could change the outcome of a case, justices tend to side with their ideological wing of the Court. For conservatives who shy away from the open politicization of the Court, however, the suggestion that justices should privilege certain outcomes is wrong. “I like Josh Hawley personally, but I think his litmus test is a very bad idea,” Sasse told me. “I think it’s the right acting like the left.”

Although some conservatives offer up philosophical arguments to explain their efforts to confirm like-minded justices, Trump himself seems to approach the courts as an exercise in accumulating power. When Scalia died, Republicans refused to hold hearings on Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, arguing that voters should get to pick the president who fills vacancies in an election year. With just a few weeks to go until November’s election, Republicans are now racing to confirm Barrett. “It is the height of cynicism,” Sarah Longwell, a Republican strategist and the publisher of the conservative website The Bulwark, told me. The move “just looks so transparently like, Hey, we’re about to lose the Senate majority, we’re about to lose the presidency, so we need to jam this thing through.”