Here’s the deal that could save The Donald:
Trump should call up Chuck Schumer — or better yet, publicly tweet him. The president should tell the Senate minority leader that he really does not want to get into a nasty, filibuster-y confrontation with a nuclear option and whatnot. To avoid this, he will voluntarily withdraw the nomination of his Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch and re-nominate Barack Obama’s own Merrick Garland — on the condition that Senate Democrats agree to vote for Gorsuch when Trump re-nominates him, which he will pledge to do on the occasion of the next Court vacancy. Conveniently for Trump, this vacancy would likely materialize as soon as Garland failed to be confirmed by a Republican Senate. But even if Garland somehow got through, the deal would still work for Trump.
What, you ask, am I smoking? Do I not realize that Trump owes his presidency in no small part to a Republican right that was palpably energized by the death of Antonin Scalia, and that would have a collective coronary at the very thought of such a move? (Didn’t I in fact emphasize Trump’s debt to the right wing in a profile of Kellyanne Conway that appears in the April issue of Elle magazine, on your newsstands now…?) Am I so blind that I can’t see how such a call would unite movement and moderate conservatives against the president, as surely as the GOP health-care bill failed to unite them for him? And looking at it from the other side, am I so naive as to believe that even if Trump were to make such an offer, Democrats — emboldened as they are by that health-care fiasco — would even entertain it, let alone honor it?
Points all taken, but think about it.
To recap: Garland is a well-known moderate jurist who could conceivably have been nominated by a president of either party. Because he was nominated by a Democrat, Senate Republicans blocked him, citing imaginary grounds that Obama was in his last year of office and therefore somehow stripped of executive authority vis-a-vis the Supreme Court. This infuriated Democrats but should have infuriated everyone. Now, Senate Democrats are poised to do anything and everything they can to block Gorsuch — and thanks to the sinister stylings of Mitch McConnell and his Screw-Democracy Band, they have unassailable, wholly non-ideological reason to do so.
I didn’t vote for Trump but do accept that as president, he is entitled to his own Court picks. I will, however, be damned if Republicans are going to be allowed to deny that same right to Obama simply by having stuck their fingers in their ears and gone “lalalalala” until the clock ran out on his second term. I’ll be double-damned if I’m going to sit still for that while also taking regular right-wing lectures on the sacrosanctity of the constitution.
Granted, I’ll be triple-damned if I’m going to vote for Trump in 2020 no matter what he does short of shucking his whole personality and reversing all his policies. This leads to the question of what's in it for Trump to pull a self-checking stunt like this. Would swapping out Gorsuch for Garland somehow redeem Trump in the eyes of his enemies? Would it cleanse any of his top two hundred sins, from the unreleased tax returns to the budget from hell, with so very many in between?
Absolutely not. But here’s what it would do:
It would instantly, clearly and substantively set Trump apart from the Washington Establishment in whose defiance he was elected — and do so in the course of demonstrating far greater respect for the institutions of democracy than that Establishment itself has done. It would thus force a wide cross-section of critics to admit that on this occasion, if on no other, Trump had gotten one very big thing very right. (Even if Gorsuch did end up being the next Supreme Court justice, the sheer act of the Senate's going through the motions with Garland would destroy the evil precedent of denying any nominee the advise-and-consent process -- a worthy undertaking, with which Schumer and Trump would both do well to be associated.) It would trigger an avalanche of shocked-yet-not-horrified mainstream media coverage, which Trump both needs and craves, no matter what he says. It would reassure Trump Democrats that despite all early indications, their hero is not trapped under a large object labeled “Heritage Action,” but is actually capable of thinking and acting like the free agent they thought he was. This, in turn, could check the free fall of his approval ratings.
At a moment when Democrats have every reason to think that their fortunes lie simply in auto-thwarting all things Trump, they would have to think again. And just by getting a tiny handful of Democrats to consider working with him on a tiny handful of things, Trump would lessen his total dependence on his Republican majority to get anything done — a dependence that hasn’t been working out so well for him lately.
Of course, the stunt would also enrage Congressional Republicans and grass roots activists. But what are the House and Senate folks going to do to their president? Block the tax-reform legislation they’re writing for him? Threaten to quit coming through for him the way they’ve been doing? As for the activists, sure, they could abandon the guy who, in every other instance, is turning out to be the man of their anti-abortion, anti-regulation, anti-social-spending, pro-gun, the-hell-with-diversity dreams. But then what? A primary for the president? A let-him-lose-to-the-left approach to the general election?
I swear: I haven’t been smoking a thing. I know that Trump will never make any such deal. As someone who prays that he is headed for a Democratic Congress in 2018 and defeat in 2020, I hope he doesn’t. But for his own sake, he should.