Trump's long week

Trench warfare over a Supreme Court nominee, the most watched presidential debate ever, an expansion of the Republican coalition — where does Trump find the energy?

President Trump.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

Three days before the first scheduled debate of the 2020 general election season, President Trump formally announced his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, the U.S. Appeals Court judge and respected legal scholar at the University of Notre Dame, to the Supreme Court.

The reaction among social conservatives has been jubilant, but Barrett's confirmation will be perhaps the most contentious in American history. It is almost certainly going to be the most resented and the one with the most far-reaching consequences. If Democrats somehow manage to retake the Senate it is likely that (as I predicted in this space some time ago) we will see the office of justice transformed into a version of the House of Lords, a quasi-legislative body complete with new members who serve set terms alongside those who inherited their seats in the days of yore. While it certainly looks as if Trump has the vote to push Barrett through, it's still going to be a bloodbath.

There are only 35 days between now and the election. It is just about possible to imagine that Barrett gets confirmed before Nov. 3. But this will mean not meeting individually with the vast majority of senators, something that has been a hallmark of the process in the past, and that hearings, if they take place at all, are radically condensed into a day or two of (for journalists anyway) much-see television: softball questions from the GOP benches and Sorkin-esque speeches from one or more Democratic senators whose would-be money lines will be on Chinese-made coffee mugs and t-shirts before they have escaped the lips of the speakers. CNN anchors will breathlessly explain to bored septuagenarians that this confirmation is the worst threat to democracy since, oh, whatever Trump told Bob Woodward on pages xviii and ix of his new book. Then there will be an up-or-down vote and Barrett will be confirmed by a close but all-important margin of two.

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This is the kind of fight Trump obviously relishes. It began in earnest only one day after he announced a plan for $500 billion in investment in African-American communities and declaring both the Ku Klux Klan and Antifa terrorist organizations during a campaign event in Georgia. Say whatever you want about its likelihood of success, but the man is clearly more interested in trying to bring black voters into the GOP than any Republican presidential candidate since Richard Nixon. And now he is getting ready to face off against Joe Biden on Tuesday in what is likely to end up being the most-watched debate of all time. No one has any idea what putting these two candidates well past the threshold for Medicare eligibility in front of each other with no scripts or teleprompters will look like, but millions of us are praying for an unprecedented media disaster, what would happen if pro wrestling had the equivalent of Old-Timers' Day but agreed to broadcast it exclusively on PBS Newshour. What a week.

One thing you cannot fault Trump for is his work ethic. There is a reason "low energy" was his favorite insult during the 2016 Republican primaries. But this defining feature of his character has its obvious downsides. I do not just mean the manic enthusiasm that leads the president to retweet wrestling GIFs in the middle of the night either, though his social media usage is a symptom of the real problem, which is his apparent inability to follow through with any of the ambitious projects he routinely announces. Remember Infrastructure Week? What about that whole revival of American heavy manufacturing thing? Does ending the drug addiction crisis ring a bell? These and so many other themes advanced during his first presidential campaign endeared him to millions of Americans, including many thousands of former Obama voters in the Midwest. Where are they now?

It goes without saying that Trump has been hobbled by relentless bad-faith scandal-mongering in the House, and that he has spent almost his entire first term operating under what are essentially lame-duck conditions. But it also seems obvious that he welcomed the fights with the FBI and the special counsel and the impeachment inquiry, just as he seems to enjoy the relentless activity of the campaign trail. For good or ill, it is hard to imagine him having wanted it any other way.

Making a last-minute (and almost certainly ill-fated) push for minority votes that would change the shape of the Republican electorate forever while trying to shore up his base, starting a trench war over the Supreme Court that is likely to advance America's ongoing constitutional revolution by several decades, preparing for and taking part in what is probably the most anticipated presidential debate ever — all before Wednesday morning. It makes the rest of us wonder what we are doing with our lives.

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