'Never Trumpers' Hail Kavanaugh, But the Praise Stops There
President Trump made a safe bet on Monday in nominating Brett Kavanaugh, a jurist widely respected among conservatives, to the Supreme Court, but the pick hasn't swayed much favor among the so-called Never Trump crowd.
"There may be people who would go, 'All the other stuff is bad, but this is good,' but I'm not sure this extends to every other aspect of his presidency," said Charlie Sykes, conservative author and commentator who has been critical of Trump.
Kavanaugh's lengthy record as an appellate judge for the D.C. Circuit, and previous experience as an aide to former President George W. Bush made him a favored choice to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement last month.
Sykes allowed that it would be "intellectually dishonest" not to acknowledge Kavanaugh as a solid pick, but said that doesn't mean he's changed his view on the president overall. As other likeminded conservatives, including commentator Bill Kristol, said after Monday’s announcement, they can stand against Trump and still support the nominee.
"You can be pro-Kavanaugh and anti-Trump," Kristol tweeted on Tuesday.
Some conservatives say that the latest Supreme Court nomination shows the internal divide regarding Trump. "Part of what's happened is there's a political tribalism. If you're in the Never Trump camp then you never praise him, and he can't do anything right," said Peter Wehner, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Himself a noted critic of the president’s, Wehner said he's seen the same reaction from Trump supporters who refuse to criticize the president on any issue.
"I think that when it comes to the courts and the Supreme Court, he's been terrific," he said of Trump. "But that...doesn’t eliminate all the other damage he's done, which is real, and considerable, and durable."
Judicial nominations were a primary reason many conservatives, even those reluctant to support Trump, eventually cast their votes in his favor. The confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch last year is among the president’s primary accomplishments since taking office. Gorsuch replaced the late Antonin Scalia, who passed away in 2016; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell prevented a hearing for then-President Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, in the hopes a Republican would win the presidency and nominate someone else.
Putting Kavanaugh on the bench may not sway conservative anti-Trumpers, but doing so remains an important accomplishment for Republicans and their supporters. A Gallup survey released last week before the announcement, showed that Democrats and those with Democratic leanings had a 10-point drop in confidence in the court over the past year, while their Republican counterparts had a 15-point surge in confidence since 2016.
Even those with reason to hold a grudge against the president have hailed his latest move. Despite Trump's very public row with Jeb Bush during the 2016 campaign, both the former Florida governor and the former president praised the nomination.
"Brett is a brilliant jurist who has faithfully applied the Constitution and laws throughout his 12 years on the D.C. Circuit,” Bush 43 said in a statement. “He is a fine husband, father, and friend – and a man of the highest integrity. He will make a superb justice of the Supreme Court of the United States."
His younger brother echoed these sentiments in a tweet calling Kavanaugh a "strong defender of the Constitution."
Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday that the administration plans on having Kavanaugh confirmed within the next three months. "Our goal is to see this new justice to the Supreme Court confirmed and sworn in before the court convenes on Oct. 1," Pence said on "The Rush Limbaugh Show."
Conservative groups are already rallying support for the nominee and turning up the heat on red state Democrats facing a tough re-elections this fall.
"Judge Kavanaugh has sterling qualifications, a temperament in the mold of Justice Neil Gorsuch, and the judicial restraint required to serve on the highest court," said Sarah Field, vice president of judicial strategy at Americans for Prosperity. The group has committed seven figures towards advertising and grassroots efforts. The first round of states includes West Virginia, North Dakota, Indiana, Florida, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Montana, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Judicial Crisis Network already launched an ad campaign on the heels of Kennedy's retirement and another series to bolster support for Kavanaugh.