Just about two weeks into his presidency, Donald Trump has already surprised Democrats and Republicans alike by doing one simple thing: Following through on his campaign promises. It is enraging Democrats and shocking Republicans. The only group not surprised? The “silent majority” who voted for him.
By issuing several executive orders (EOs), including the one temporarily keeping refugees from specific countries from entering the United States, and now nominating Neil Gorsuch, who appears to be an intellectual twin to the late “originalist” Justice Antonin Scalia, to the Supreme Court, some conservatives are already considering this presidency a victory.
How About That Neil Gorsuch?
During much of the last year, conservative Twitter argued often about the concept of being #NeverTrump (hashtag and all). Many conservatives like myself were not keen on supporting Trump given his authoritarian and populist statements, but did hope he might nominate a more conservative justice, or thought he was more likely to do so than Hillary Clinton was.
Many participated in or observed dozens of debates along these lines. I was often and adamantly told by self-professed Never Trumpers that “Vote Trump because SCOTUS” was a terrible reason to support Trump. They claimed it was too one-note, or that SCOTUS is not of that much consequence, or that even if Trump nominated a conservative justice, anything else he might do could harm the republic more.
Without Scalia the Supreme Court has experienced some gridlock due to numbers and ideological makeup. Our way of life is often affected in big and small ways by the decisions the Supreme Court makes. (If you don’t think so, consider Roe v. Wade, Obergefell v. Hodges, or King v. Burwell.) Granted, Twitter is certainly not representative of the American political landscape at large, but even outside Twitter we saw a significant amount of heated political debate on whether to support Trump because of the very thing he did Tuesday night. To wit:
— Michael Johns (@michaeljohns) February 1, 2017
Some people who are passionate about jurisprudence may declare Trump’s presidency, just 11 days in, already a success, regardless of what happens the next four years. I think that’s a bit far-fetched, but let’s not underestimate the importance of this choice. Consider this, via Ian Tuttle last year at National Review Online, regarding the logic of voting for Trump because he might appoint a conservative justice to the Supreme Court:
But let’s say Trump abides by his word: In the short-term, then, the best-case scenario is that a President Trump picks a reliable conservative to replace Justice Scalia. Yet even this only maintains the status quo: four liberal justices, four conservative justices, and Anthony Kennedy, swinging in the middle. And this relies on the makeup of the Senate. If Republicans win the White House in November but lose the Senate, Democrats could force Trump to replace Scalia with a Kennedy-esque “moderate.” The possibility that Trump would get to appoint conservative justices to replace any of the oldest, left-leaning justices — Ginsburg (83), Kennedy (80), or Breyer (77) — is no more likely than that they would stick around until 2020.
Mercifully, Tuttle’s suggestion didn’t come to fruition. The makeup of Congress is entirely different than predicted, and Gorsuch is entirely more conservative than the kind of potential replacement justice many thought Trump would choose.
I don’t blame people who were Never Trump. I certainly wasn’t wild about him, either. And for the nomination to matter it needs to lead through confirmation, about which Democrats are promising a maelstrom. Everyone should embrace the freedom they have to participate in the political process however loudly or quietly they feel inclined, but just as it’s worthwhile to applaud movements that succeed, lessons can be learned from failed assertions too.
In this case, and with this particular argument, both the “silent majority” who voted for Trump who believed 100 percent he would nominate a good justice, and the few conservatives who hesitated to vote for him merely hoping he would, either made a calculated choice or placed a winning bet, and so far are heading towards a royal flush.
Checking Off His To-Do List
Aiming to place deeply conservative justices on the Supreme Court is not the only thing Trump is in the process of accomplishing that he said he would. At roughly two weeks in, he’s checking multiple things off his lengthy list. So far it’s far more than his predecessor, who campaigned on that very notion.
Within his first two weeks, President Obama used $825 billion in taxpayer dollars to implement the American and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for shovel-ready projects that turned out to be a disaster. Compare that to Trump, who signed an executive order to reduce regulations that will allow businesses to keep and reinvest funds that otherwise would have been wasted. U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Thomas J. Donohue noted in a press release this “fulfill[s] the campaign’s promise to take on the regulatory juggernaut that is limiting economic growth, choking small business, and putting people out of work.” Obama put his trust in government; Trump is throwing power back to the private sector.
Obama also began to undo George W. Bush’s counter-terrorism efforts by “by issuing a trio of Executive Orders dealing with torture — including one calling for the closure of Gitmo by 2010 and another banning torture and other harsh interrogation techniques like waterboarding.” Trump issued an EO that temporarily halted visitors entering the U.S. from countries where terrorists are known to reside and recruit. While the EO was executed poorly in several respects, its meat demonstrates a significant effort toward beginning to address pressing national security issues.
Obama implemented new ethics guidelines designed to significantly curtail the influence of lobbyists on the executive branch, which obviously didn’t work at all. Trump signed an executive order banning administration officials from ever lobbying for a foreign nation and from lobbying inside the U.S. for five years after they leave their government jobs. Big difference.
If you don’t like Trump strain of conservatism or are a liberal still hoping Hillary were residing in the White House, these things are beyond frustrating. But for the millions who voted for Trump precisely because he said he would do these things, or even if you’re a conservative on the sidelines occasionally offering a surprised slow clap at a good deed like nominating Gorsuch, you’re pinching yourself and wondering when you’ll wake up to find out your nightmare was just dressed up like a daydream (to borrow from our girl Taylor—holla!) and the republic is going to spiral into oblivion any minute now.
Of course, a bevy of executive orders does not a successful president make, and Gorsuch still needs to make it through his confirmation vote. Often first actions in office are a president’s way of pushing back at his predecessor like a kid sticking his tongue out at the bully in school already standing in the corner for time-out: Anyone can do it, and there’s nothing the other guy can do now. Everybody knows executive orders are the easiest way for a president to look productive, hence Trump’s jab that he too has a “pen and phone” just like Obama.
While it’s impossible to say how Trump will behave the next 1,449 (or so) days of his presidency and how the decisions he makes will affect the republic, it’s assured he’ll make mistakes. This may have been just a flash of brilliance from an impulsive man who likes to stick it to the liberals he just walloped, and soon conservatives will be praying for 2012 like liberals pray for the Electoral College to be eradicated.
Many Never Trumpers believe what would make Trump’s presidency worth it is a long-term shift in enhancing the separation of powers and federalism and reducing the administrative state to permanently change a game rigged against conservatives. We elect our guys, then they spend eight years slightly slimming the bureaucratic glutton of government growth, then the other party gets the helm and we’re inflating the flubber again.
Civil service reform, like a massive revision of the Pendleton Act, is an option. Additional SCOTUS appointments are another, although that’s not foolproof either, as we’ve seen with Justice John Roberts. If Trump eviscerates the administrative state, however, the downsides of a populist president may be worth it, because that changes the game entirely.