President Donald Trump nominated federal appeals court judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on Monday evening, capping a day of reality TV-esque drama in which he managed to keep the decision from leakingand the country guessinguntil minutes before the announcement.
In a ceremony in the White Houses East Room, Trump introduced Kavanaugh, who stood alongside his wife and two daughters, as a judge with impeccable credentials, unsurpassed qualifications, and a commitment to equal justice under the law. The president placed particular emphasis on equal.
Within minutes of Trumps announcement, the White House rapid response effort had mobilized. Paul Teller, a senior legislative affairs aide, emailed an action alert to supporters, requesting your public, repeated, and enthusiastic support for this nominee so that the Senate confirms Judge Kavanaugh as soon as possible this fall.
The email included three separate memos of talking points on Kavanaughs biography, his position on overregulation, and his position on religion, life, and conscience. Metadata in the documents show they were created just an hour before Trumps announcement.
Monday evenings announcement followed weeks of jostling among conservative legal advocates who sought to secure the nod for their preferred nominees, but the preeminent organizations that have stewarded Trumps judicial nominees onto the Supreme Court and other federal courts appeared to have lined up behind Kavanaugh by mid-day.
At around 3 PM, those close to Leonard Leo, the president of the powerful Federalist Society, began circulating a 12-page backgrounder, obtained by The Daily Beast, detailing Kavanaughs qualifications for the bench. And within minutes of his announcement, the firm CRC Public Relations, which represents the Judicial Crisis Network, an influential dark money group that pledged to spend eight figures to get Trumps nominee confirmed, blasted out testimonials hailing Kavanaughs qualifications from 20 of his former clerks. A second CRC email contained two photos of the justice with his daughters and a link to a JCN-backed website, ConfirmKavanaugh.com. The site was one of four that JCN set up prior to the announcementwith three others corresponding to the other judges on Trumps short-list.
Kavanaughs behind-the-scenes backers prior to the announcement also included some former clerks for, and other allies of, the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, to whom Trump has frequently alluded in describing his ideal nominee to the high court, and whom he again hailed at Mondays ceremony.
Scalia folks I have engaged with like Kavanaugh. They think he is confirmable and conservative, said one plugged-in conservative movement source familiar with the behind-the-scenes lobbying efforts prior to Trumps announcement. They like Barrett a lot, but they worry about her confirmation.
But if Trump considered Kavanaughs backing from Scalia-world, he also surely knew of his roots in the George W. Bush White House. Asked how Kavanaugh mightve overcome that perception, one senior administration official pointed to his work on Kenneth Starrs investigation of President Bill Clintonand subsequent disavowal of criminal and civil investigations into sitting presidents.
Trump, who is staring down both a federal criminal investigation and a number of civil lawsuits, likely noticed the latter position, the administration official said. Its a twofer, the official joked. In Trumps mind, he manages to be both anti-Clinton and anti-Mueller.
The high stakes announcement on Monday followed a day of wild speculation and tea leaf-reading, designed, some conservatives briefed on the nomination process believed, to prevent a leak of Trumps decision by flooding the zone with contradictory information. It was a characteristic move by a president who revels in the political press spinning its wheels, and is naturally inclined to the sort of primetime TV drama that he helmed as host of NBCs The Apprentice.
There are few people in politics, or entertainment for that matter, who have a better understanding of marketing than the president, Andy Surabian, a former Trump White House official and a Republican strategist, told The Daily Beast on Monday afternoon. He gets that modern-day politics is no different than Hollywood, and his grasp of marketing would even make P. T. Barnum proud.
Its the sort of showmanship to which those who work for Trump have become accustomed. But the gravity of the days events was not lost on some of Trumps more senior advisers.
Its like a big contest of great importance, Rudy Giuliani, the presidents personal attorney, told The Daily Beast in an interview. Asked if the showmanship at play here reminded him of President Trumps reality-TV days, Giuliani laughed and remarked, Its a little more important than that!
Giuliani said that he has triedand failedto suss out information on the presidents decision ahead of the announcement. But Trump had been real cagey about who will get the nod, or how hes come to that decision.
I talked to him twice [on Monday morning], on other things, but I asked him cuz I'm nosy, and [President Trump] laughed, and said, I haven't even told people I've made up my mind yet, recalled Giuliani, who said he plans to attend the ceremony at the White House in the evening. So I said, How are you gonna get him into the White House? And he just said, Leave it up to me.
The only thing he could confirm to The Daily Beastless than six hours before the announcementabout the presidents Supreme Court pick was that its not me! Giuliani said, laughing.
This story has been updated throughout.