Trump allies urge a new focus as his court nominee testifies

Three weeks before Election Day, some of President Trump’s allies are trying to send him a message.

Three weeks before Election Day, some of President Trump’s allies are trying to send him a message.

On “Media Buzz,” former White House press secretary Sean Spicer told me it was a political mistake for his ex-boss to be demanding indictments of Barack Obama and Joe Biden and urging the release of more Hillary Clinton emails.

“I think he should stick to his policies,” said Spicer, praising the president’s accomplishment. He added: “No one out there in America that isn't already voting for him is going to vote for him because additional emails come out or not.”

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And the Associated Press yesterday quoted Newt Gingrich, who believes Trump will win, as warning the president to stop fighting the last war:

“He hasn’t quite adjusted to the fact that Biden is not Hillary and he has not adjusted that he has been around for five years and not being a fresh face. The things that worked against Hillary haven’t worked against Biden.”

Now maybe they’re wrong. Maybe Trump’s theory, that the greatest imperative is turning out his base, will carry the day. Maybe the wave of polls giving Biden a lead of 10 to 16 points is wrong and Trump will confound all the experts again, even in the face of a deadly pandemic.

But it’s hard to see how a president openly pressuring his attorney general to bring charges against his predecessor and his opponent--shattering the norms of law enforcement--brings him closer to victory.

Trump tweeted yesterday that “New York is going to hell” and “California is going to hell”--not that he has a chance of winning those blue states, but does that win him more votes in swing states?

How about calling journalists “truly sick people”? That was another tweet yesterday: “The Lamestream Media has gone absolutely insane because they realize we are winning BIG in all of the polls that matter.” I don’t blame the president for pushing back against the unrelenting negative coverage, but that doesn’t make the polls wrong.

It seems to me that Trump’s focus should be on the one move that unites conservatives, even those who don’t love his behavior: the Amy Coney Barrett nomination.

Not only are Trump’s judicial appointments extremely popular on the right, but this is one battle he’s virtually guaranteed to win. Despite all the criticism of the eleventh-hour nomination, and the GOP’s inaction in 2016, the Republicans have the votes to put Barrett on the court.

What’s more, a Washington Post/ABC poll shows that support for postponing the vote has dropped from 57 percent last month to 52 percent, a bare majority, while 44 percent want a vote now.

That’s in part because the shock of Trump’s decision has worn off, with most people returning to their partisan corners, and because Barrett has have made a favorable public impression.

In her opening remarks yesterday, Barrett was gracious and humble, talking about her seven children, how she would be first mother with young kids on the court, and the only sitting justice who didn’t go to Harvard or Yale. The Notre Dame graduate is, in short, a good witness.

And yet the president devoted only a fraction of yesterday’s tweetstorm to the Supreme Court battle. At one point during the hearing he wrote: “The Republicans are giving the Democrats a great deal of time, which is not mandated, to make their self serving statements relative to our great new future Supreme Court Justice. Personally, I would pull back, approve, and go for STIMULUS for the people!!!” 

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Actually, it’s a longstanding Senate tradition that each side at a hearing get an equal allotment of time. But there is a larger point: the level of senatorial bloviation, on both sides, was stupefying.

As one lawmaker after another droned on. Barrett sat there, masked and mute, looking almost like a hostage as she was unable to say a word. Why even have her there, except as a stationary prop so the Judiciary Committee members could hog the camera time?

Republicans praised Barrett and accused the other side of distorting her record. Josh Hawley called the questioning of her faith “the very terminology of anti-Catholic bigotry.” Joni Ernst said opponents were trying to paint her as a “cartoon version of a religious radical, a so-called handmaid that feeds into all of the ridiculous stereotypes.”

Democrats denounced the session itself--Amy Klobuchar called it a “sham”--and turned it into a hearing on ObamaCare, with several displaying photos of sick adults and children who had been helped by the law. They portrayed Barrett as virtually certain to overturn the Affordable Care Act, a Supreme Court challenge supported by the Trump administration.

That prompted this Twitter pushback from the president: “Republicans must state loudly and clearly that WE are going to provide much better Healthcare at a much lower cost. Get the word out! Will always protect pre-existing conditions!!!”

But it’s a hard case for Trump’s party to make because he has been promising a health care plan for months and never produced one.

Still, a focus on health care and the high court, rather than Hillary, would put the president at the heart of the national debate over the next four years.