White House officials had an appointment with their television remotes at 9 p.m. on Saturday. At that hour, they worried, Fox News’ “Justice with Judge Jeanine” might sway Donald Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court and undo everything officials have spent weeks working on.
Trump and the former Westchester County judge are, to be sure, close. But the nervousness inside the Trump orbit this weekend, days before the President is set to announce his nominee to replace outgoing Justice Anthony Kennedy, says as much about the impulsiveness of Trump’s decisionmaking as it does about those who may influence it.
At his private club in New Jersey this weekend, Trump has been consulting with aides and advisers, including Vice President Mike Pence, who flew up to work through the pluses and minuses of each candidate. As Trump likes to do, he is also phoning friends and lawmakers to sound them out about potential contenders.
As of Saturday evening, advisers say, the president had narrowed his list down to four candidates. Raymond Kethledge was the leading contender, although officials stress that Trump has not yet settled on a choice. Trump has been describing Kethledge to aides as “Gorsuch 2.0,” a reference to his 2017 successful nominee, Neil Gorsuch. Trump sees that nomination as one of the high points of his presidency.
Even so, White House officials are preparing rollout plans for all four contenders, which also include Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh and Thomas Hardiman, officials say. Hardiman, however, remains in distant last place.
Kavanaugh had been considered a frontrunner, but his fortunes may be torpedoed by Trump’s grudges. Kavanaugh was a top aide to President George W. Bush, whom Trump loathes. As much as anything, personality drives the current President to action, and Trump has gone out of his way to attack all members of the Bush clan and their aides. When some Twitter users started posting a photograph of Kavanaugh walking with former Bush deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, most of Kavanaugh’s backers saw the writing on the wall given Rove’s criticism of Trump’s conduct as candidate and as President.
Privately, Kavanaugh has found the treatment of his service in the Bush White House troubling, he has told those involved in picking a nominee. But that is unlikely to sway Trump, aides say, and those involved in the process urged Kavanaugh not to dig any deeper with Trump. White House Counsel Don McGahn, a Kavanaugh booster, has largely stopped making the…