President Donald Trump started his European tour with a bang, accusing Germany of hyping the Russian threat to get US protection while sending billions of dollars to Russia for its oil. The Europeans are not amused. Fasten your seat belts!
His real target was the permanent government and its enablers in the legal, financial, diplomatic and intelligence communities in Washington. These entities hover around power centers no matter which party is in power.
Beneath the swamp, Trump argued, lies the deep state. This is a loose collection of career government officials who operate outside ordinary legal and constitutional frameworks and use the levers of government power to favor their own, affect public policy and stay in power. Though I did not vote for Trump — I voted for the Libertarian candidate — a part of me rejoiced at his election because I accepted his often repeated words that he would be a stumbling block to the deep state and he'd drain the swamp.
On Monday night, he rewarded the swamp denizens and deep state outliers by nominating one of their own to the Supreme Court.
Here is the back story.
The late Justice Antonin Scalia — my friend during the final 10 years of his life — and his neighbor and colleague Justice Anthony Kennedy often remarked to each other during the Obama years that each would like to leave the Supreme Court upon the election of a Republican president. Scalia's untimely death in February 2016 denied him that choice, but Kennedy bided his time.
When Trump was elected president, Kennedy told friends that he needed to await Trump's nominee to replace Scalia to gauge whether the judicially untested Trump could be counted upon to choose a nominee of Kennedy's liking and Scalia's standing.
Trump knew Kennedy's thinking, and that guided him in choosing Neil Gorsuch for Scalia's seat. Gorsuch believes in the primacy of the individual and natural rights and is generally skeptical of government regulators. He is also a former Kennedy clerk.
So the Gorsuch selection was intended to serve two purposes. The first was to pick a Scalia-like thinker for the court as candidate Trump had promised, and the second was to give Kennedy a comfort level so he could retire and give President Trump a second nominee. It worked.
When Kennedy paid an unprecedented visit to the Oval Office two weeks ago, ostensibly to tell the president of his intention to retire, he also had a secret purpose — to recommend his replacement. The announcement of Kennedy's departure began a firestorm of lobbying in behalf of four people from a list of 25 potential nominees that Trump had published when searching for Scalia's replacement.
The idea of a published list is novel. But it cemented loyalty from conservatives to Trump, who, of course, had no track record in evaluating or appointing judicial nominees. The standards used to put names on the list involved examining academic credentials and published works and, with the exception of one person, requiring judicial experience with a traditionalist bent, even if brief.