Most conservatives are genuinely pleased with President Trump's Supreme Court choice, but there's a lack of excitement in some quarters.
Even the fiercest detractors of Brett Kavanaugh—who we now know was privately endorsed by Anthony Kennedy—are conceding that he is eminently qualified for the high court. But he is also an upstanding, Georgetown Prep, Ivy League, well-connected Washington insider.
Former judge Andrew Napolitano, the Fox News legal analyst, said yesterday: "I'm disappointed in the president because this is not the type of person that he said he would pick. Justice Gorsuch was. This person is at the heart and soul of the D.C. establishment against whom the president railed."
David French, the National Review writer who pined for Amy Coney Barrett, wrote: "It was a safe choice — and an opportunity lost. There was a choice out there that fired the conservative imagination, the kind of choice that arguably only a Donald Trump would have the guts to make."
In terms of raw politics, as interest groups on both sides prepare to spend millions and partisans ratchet up their rhetoric, Kavanaugh is overwhelmingly likely to be confirmed. Even if the three red-state Democrats stick with their party, Mitch McConnell can win simply by holding on to his 50 votes.
When Trump critics, including many in the media, denounce his presidency, they've got plenty of fodder, from trade wars to family separations at the border, from his own Twitter attacks to a revolving-door White House and the firing of two ethically challenged Cabinet members.
But on SCOTUS nominations, the president has been extremely disciplined. In picking Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, he is giving conservatives—and especially religious and evangelical voters—exactly what he promised, with a minimum of drama.
In truth, Kavanaugh could have been nominated by any Republican president.
NBC stirred the pot yesterday with a report from producer Leigh Ann Caldwell that had to be retracted. She said the White House spent months negotiating with Kennedy over his retirement in exchange for a Kavanaugh selection, which would have an unsavory smell, and the story went viral. Caldwell later said it was not a transaction and that Kennedy simply provided a list of candidates he liked, including Kavanaugh, and a White House spokesman called the assumption of a deal "completely false." This was a major screwup, no question about it. (Politico says Kennedy’s endorsement helped Trump make up his mind, but nothing more than that.)
Whatever angst the president may have felt about Kavanaugh's service in the Bush White House now seems like a minor consideration.
Many on the right are clapping, if not delivering standing ovations. National Review, calling him a "whip-smart legal conservative," says "it would be utterly implausible, indeed laughable, for Senate Democrats to try to portray Kavanaugh as unqualified. They will instead try to present him as a right-wing monster. They will try to make him pledge to keep the Supreme Court rather than legislatures in charge of abortion policy, even though the Constitution requires no such thing; then they will condemn him for refusing to take the pledge. They will portray his concern for the structural limits on government power as a blanket hostility to government, which it is not. And they will cherry-pick decisions in which he ruled against a sympathetic cause or litigant, as is sometimes a judge’s duty."
For a glimpse of how the left is reacting, Slate goes with "How Kavanaugh Will Gut Roe v. Wade." The liberal site points to his opinion in the case of a 17-year-old illegal immigrant who wanted an abortion. But the story concedes that Kavanaugh "struck what he clearly thought would be a middle ground" between saying the girl had no constitutional rights at all and granting her immediate access to abortion. Kavanaugh wanted to give the government nearly two weeks to find the girl a sponsor and transfer her into that person's custody. His opinion in the case brought complaints from the right that he is insufficiently zealous on abortion.
Salon predicts that "we'll be getting breathless coverage that falsely implies that Kavanaugh is a moderate or that he will exercise judicial restraint. There is no reason to believe any of this.
"Conservatives in recent days have been priming journalists to make this mistake by loudly expressing 'concerns' that Kavanaugh might not be a crazed enough right-wing hack. In one case, Kavanaugh rejected the legal defenses of the Affordable Care Act, but because he acknowledged in his opinion that the government has the power to tax people, conservatives are now claiming he's more moderate than he actually is."
I think it's fair to say that liberals would have vehemently opposed any of Trump's finalists because each would have moved the court to the right. It's also fair to say that Mitch McConnell's demands for a fair and expedited hearing ring hollow because he and other Republicans wouldn't even meet with Merrick Garland.
There is one other factor that has nothing to do with Kavanaugh's legal opinions or ideological views. When he came out with his wife and two daughters, and spoke softly about his Catholic faith and coaching the girls' basketball team at their Maryland church, he made it harder for opponents to demonize him as a wild man. And such things matter.