Desperate times call for desperate measures. The man who bragged about grabbing women by their private parts is now grabbing onto Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s brain.
“She is a woman of unparalleled achievement, towering intellect, sterling credentials, and unyielding loyalty to the Constitution,” said President Trump as he presented Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court during a Rose Garden ceremony over the weekend.
Strong praise for a woman from a president who’s better known for being accused of sexual misconduct; paying off a porn star with whom he cavorted; and describing women who challenge him as “nasty.” But as recent polls highlight a serious gender gap in this campaign, with Trump losing female voters to Democratic challenger Joe Biden, the president is clinging to Barrett like the proverbial life raft off the Titanic.
For Democrats, Barrett’s intellect and academic credentials will make it harder to challenge her nomination. She graduated at the top of her Notre Dame Law School class and clerked for the late Justice Antonin Scalia. A popular and admired law professor at her alma mater, she became a federal judge three years ago. Given the majority that Republicans hold in the Senate, confirmation is likely. But in the end, Trump cares about Trump, and whether the sparkling resume of a working mom with seven children — two adopted from Haiti and another with Down syndrome — will bring female voters back to him. That’s his gamble, which is now complicated somewhat by the New York Times’s bombshell report about his failure to pay taxes for 10 of the 15 years before he was elected president.
By choosing Barrett, Trump is probably hoping other women will simply see a smart woman, not a shameless effort to jam another conservative justice onto the Supreme Court. However, according to a New York Times poll, women haven’t forgotten political or policy priorities: 62 percent of those surveyed said they wanted the winner of the November election to fill the seat on the court. And Barrett’s misgivings about abortion, as expressed in several judicial opinions she joined, don’t seem to be a major selling point either: 60 percent of those polled said they believe abortion should be legal all or some of the time.
Trump’s instincts about the female mind have been wrong before. He also believed he could scare women into supporting him by raising the specter of Black Lives Matters protesters invading their suburban neighborhoods. His campaign, so far, has been one of division and terror, as he rages about protests over police misconduct that are taking place across the country and ignores the coronavirus pandemic, which has already killed more than 200,000 Americans. He blames all the bad on blue states. Meanwhile, Trump continues to undermine the credibility of the ballot process and threatens not to leave office, no matter what the voters have to say.
This Supreme Court move could backfire, too, given the crassness with which it was undertaken by Trump and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. Hours after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, McConnell put out word that Trump’s nominee would receive a Senate vote. Republican senators have mostly fallen in line with the decision to move forward, despite McConnell’s refusal to take up President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, in 2016, saying the people had the right to, first, choose a president.
As Ginsburg lay in state in the US Capitol — the first woman to do so — Trump swiftly moved forward with the selection of a replacement. Trump and McConnell showed little respect for the lifetime achievements of a jurist who fought hard for civil rights and women’s equality — and little respect for the women who revered her. The too-cute effort to turn Trump’s nominee into the “Notorious ACB,” as a take-off on the Notorious RBG, also shows how little Trump understands women. Ginsburg, who died at 87, earned her status as a liberal icon after decades of work that paved the way for women like Barrett, who is 48. Trump has neither the grace nor strategic vision to acknowledge that.
When it comes to women, nothing has changed. Trump is used to grabbing what he wants. Right now, that’s Barrett.