by Rod D. Martin
May 19, 2016

I remain most disquieted by Donald Trump: I am certainly still far from ready to endorse him.

But yesterday unquestionably changed the equation, no matter how many outstanding conservatives like Erick Erickson and Steve Deace may dismiss it. And while I understand their arguments all too well, I also realize they are so invested in their positions at this point that they may have trouble seeing data that doesn’t fit their model. We simply have to look at this with clear eyes and honesty about what it means and how it fits in the bigger picture, not discounting that they may be right, but open to the very real possibility that they might be wrong, or at least, wrong in crucial part.

So here’s the deal. Trump just did something no Presidential candidate has ever done: he gave us a specific list, from which he has promised his Supreme Court picks will come. And they are absolutely stellar. And he had Heritage and the Federalist Society help him pick them. And we’ve never seen such a list, not just in our lifetimes, but ever. George Washington himself did not choose better.

For reference, here is his March 21 statement at Mar-a-Lago:

“Some of the people that are against me say, we don’t know if he’s going to pick the right judges, supposing he picks a liberal judge or a pro-choice judge, or whatever…. I will get a list of anywhere between 5 and 10 judges, and those are going to be the judges that I am going to put in, it will be one of those judges, and I will guarantee it personally –like we do in the business world- but I guarantee that they will be up for nomination if I win.”

And here is the brilliant (and anti-Trump) legal scholar John Yoo, writing for National Review:

“These names are a Federalist Society all-star list of conservative jurisprudence. Everyone on the list is an outstanding legal conservative. All are young, smart, and committed. Several of the possibilities, such as Tom Lee of Utah, Allison Eid of Colorado, and David Stras of Minnesota, are former law clerks of Justice Clarence Thomas, while others, such as Steve Colloton of Iowa and Joan Larsen of Michigan, clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia. They are joined by other well-known judicial conservatives, such as Diane Sykes, Don Willet, Ray Kethledge, and Bill Pryor.”

Now Yoo proceeds to point out that he doesn’t trust Trump. And it is certainly true that in Trump’s March statement he “guaranteed” his picks would come from this list, whereas in yesterday’s statement he left himself a little more room. I get that. And also, as you may have noticed, I’ve been a die-hard Cruz supporter and I don’t especially trust Trump myself.

Still, we need to give this some real consideration, for several reasons.

First, we can’t have it both ways. Assuming Trump is insincere in his conservatism, he is either a massive ideological liberal who lives day and night to turn America socialist, or he’s more-or-less lacking deep convictions and just adopting whatever positions make sense for the greater glory of Trump. Can anyone really, objectively, assert the former? Not without going full-on conspiracist. (And by the way, there is at least some possibility that if it is the latter, he has actually lived long enough to be “mugged by reality” and genuinely become more conservative on at least some things over time; but I am noting that, not assuming it).

If this is true, Trump has absolutely no reason to betray his constituency, and he obviously believes these judges help him with them. In many ways, he will need their help after the election more than before it. So a bait-and-switch, while possible, doesn’t really add up.

Second, when George Bush nominated Harriet Miers in 2006, a much weaker Senate leadership killed her nomination as the conservative movement rose in revolt. She was not even all that objectionable (though I have the entirely forgotten distinction of being the very first conservative leader to oppose her): we all just knew that we needed awesome and Bush was giving us pablum. So Bush was forced to withdraw his close friend’s nomination and replace her with the perfectly wonderful Sam Alito.

This shows that a Trump betrayal can and almost certainly will have immediately consequences. Trump absolutely knows this.

Third, let’s be honest: we all sucked it up and helped Dole, McCain and Romney (and to a lesser degree both Bushes) on far, far less. Our knock on all of them was that we couldn’t trust them on judges, and not one of them sought to reassure us with more than “trust me.” We didn’t, but we supported them anyway, because we knew what Clinton, Kerry and Obama would do without question.

Trump just promised us — with specificity — exactly what we most need. And most of the other things he could actually do pale in significance beside this. Which brings me to my final point:

Fourth, unless Trump really is an ideologically-driven radical (which seems highly unlikely), it costs him nothing to give us what we most want. HE DOESN’T CARE. He wants to go after China and build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. Assuming the worst likely (as opposed to the worst possible) scenario, giving us our judges is the cheapest thing in the world to him.

But those judges would overturn Obergefell, Roe, Wickard, everything.

Hillary’s judges will put your pastor in prison. Not might. Will.

This is not an endorsement: these are just my preliminary thoughts. But I’ve said from the beginning that this is the singular issue in 2016: everything hangs on this, as it never has in any election before. Is Donald Trump terrible or merely populist? I don’t know, but God sovereignly chose to put us in this situation despite our very best efforts to avoid it, and Romans 8:28 still applies. Most of us have always said that we could live with just about anything if we could fix this one thing. Maybe God’s giving us that; maybe He’s even giving us someone who will see it through at all costs — as a matter of personal pride and machismo if nothing else — which even Reagan would not do for Bork.

Trump may be here for eight years, or four, or even just four weeks like William Henry Harrison. But Scalia’s replacement — and the potentially four other justices the next President might appoint — are likely to serve for the rest of our lives.

No matter how strongly one might dislike The Donald, I don’t think we can just blithely discount this development. We have just been handed the main thing we want and which America must have, by a proven fighter who has little to lose by delivering and quite a lot to lose by lying, at least about this specific thing. Miers helped push the Bush presidency off the cliff: it never recovered. And of all the charges against Donald Trump, “committed ideologue” is by far the least compelling.

Maybe it’s a head fake. But it deserves much, much more than our simple dismissal.

— This essay is adapted from an email to my good friend Andrew Hebert.