Trump Isn’t an Aberration of the Conservative Movement

Conservative columnist George Will famously left the Republican Party when Donald Trump became its presidential nominee. But his concerns obviously weren’t related to the president’s addiction to violating democratic norms and then lying about it in order to blame Democrats. The reason I can state that with some certainty is that Will did exactly those things in his column yesterday praising Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on his so-called “long game.”

McConnell recently said that the most consequential decision of his entire public career was blocking the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Here’s how Will described the breaking of that norm:

By preventing a vote on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland — invoking a rule first suggested by Democratic Sens. Joe Biden and Charles E. Schumer: Supreme Court justices should not be confirmed in presidential election years — McConnell kept open the seat of Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016. The election produced a president unburdened by jurisprudential convictions but deferential to the Federalist Society and other conservatives who think about such things.

In other words, McConnell’s move was to block the nomination of a judge many Republicans considered to be a moderate in order to hold the seat open for a conservative. Notice that Will blames the so-called “rule” on Democrats. The problem is that Democrats never refused a vote—much less committee hearings—on a Republican president’s nominee to the Supreme Court. What actually happened is that then-Senator Joe Biden gave a speech in 1992 in which he suggested that, if a vacancy were to occur during the presidential campaign, President George H.W. Bush should delay the announcement of a nominee until after the election was over.

Based on Biden’s words, it appears he would not have objected to Bush nominating someone the day after election day. It would have given the Senate more than two and a half months to vote on confirmation.

Next, Will tells an even bigger whopper.

To prevent Republicans from reciprocating with filibusters against Obama’s packing-by-enlargement of the nation’s second-most-important court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Democrats changed Senate rules to bar filibusters of judicial nominees other than those for the Supreme Court. McConnell removed that pointless exemption to make possible the confirmation of Neil M. Gorsuch.

That bit about “Obama’s packing-by-enlargement” of the DC Circuit Court is a bold-faced lie. What happened is that in 2013, that court had three openings. Republicans proposed eliminating three seats in order to keep President Obama from filling them, claiming that his attempt to fill existing vacancies was “court-packing.”

George Will can look down his nose at Donald Trump all he wants because he uses bigger words and wears a bow tie. But with columns like this, I fail to see the distinction. It’s just another example of how the current president isn’t an aberration of the conservative movement, but a culmination of the path Republicans have been on for a while now.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.