Donald Trump is set to release an expanded list of people he would consider naming to the Supreme Court today, a group that includes Utah Sen. Mike Lee, Florida state Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady and several other conservative stalwarts, reports NBC's Chuck Todd.
For a candidate and a campaign that often appear to be lurching from one tactic to another with no broader strategy, this is a very smart thing for Trump to do in advance of Monday's first presidential debate. Why? Because it reminds Republicans of the stakes in this election — and that Trump is more likely to govern in a way consistent with their values than Hillary Clinton would if elected.
I have long maintained that Trump's best day in the general election to date was May 18. That was the day he released the names of 11 conservatives he would consider to fill the current vacancy on the Supreme Court and any other openings that might arise. (Here's a look at who those people are.)
Trump had just emerged as the party's nominee — it was 15 days removed from his crushing of Ted Cruz in Indiana and two weeks after Ohio Gov. John Kasich left the race and handed Trump the nomination semiofficially. Bad blood remained, however, and Trump's court gambit struck me as perhaps the smartest way to unite the party — since the Republican base tends to be heavily invested in the future of the court, especially in the wake of recent rulings on same-sex marriage and Obamacare that didn't go their way.
It didn't exactly work — largely because Trump spent about a week talking about his court picks before abandoning it in favor of the latest shiny object or the latest person to insult him on Twitter. But just because it didn't work doesn't mean it can't work. And that's clearly what Trump's campaign is hoping for.
The truth of this election for Trump is that he won't win if the vote is seen as a referendum on him. His numbers among Democrats are dismal and his ongoing struggles to unite Republicans spell doom — unless something changes.
What Trump must do is make the race about something bigger than himself. You may not love me, he needs to signal to conservatives and loosely affiliated Republicans, but this isn't about me — it's about whether you are okay with the Democratic agenda in control of the country over the next four years. Whether you like me or not, Trump is saying with his move today, I will pick people for the Supreme Court that are considerably more conservative than the sort of people Clinton will pick if she wins.
That's very smart. It's probably Trump's best way to unite Republicans and, in so doing, give himself a realistic chance to win in 46 days. But Trump has self-sabotaged smart strategies before — forcing himself into the national spotlight with a message that could be summed up this way: "Me, me, me, me, me. Also, me."
Can he stick to this court message through the weekend and keep up the drumbeat at the debate? Like most things with Trump, the honest answer is: Who knows?