But the Gorsuch pick is being sold as mainstream and reassuring. "Solid Conservative Is Not Seen as Divisive" is the subheading on the front page of the New York Times site as I type. A Times story tells us that Gorsuch was chosen in part to reassure Anthony Kennedy that it will be okay for him to step down -- see, President Trump will replace you with a reasonable person, not a bomb-thrower.
In tapping Judge Neil M. Gorsuch for an open seat, Mr. Trump chose a candidate with the potential to reassure Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the swing vote who holds the balance of power on the court, that it would be safe to retire.A pick like this is the chess move you'd expect from the administration of one of the other 2016 Republican presidential candidates. It's not what you'd expect from a Steve Bannon administration. You'd expect a pick that was a deliberate thumb in the eye of Democrats and liberals, someone who'd never be the subject of a useful-idiot New York Times op-ed like "Why Liberals Should Back Neil Gorsuch," by Obama-era acting solicitor general Neal Katyal.
The idea is to show Justice Kennedy, 80, that should he step down at some point, Mr. Trump would select as his replacement a nominee similar to Judge Gorsuch, and not one so inflammatory or outside the mainstream as to be unacceptable to Justice Kennedy. Although certainly more conservative than the justice, Judge Gorsuch once clerked for him and has his enduring respect.
Why didn't Trump flip the bird to us and pick someone designed to offend? Well, we know that he outsourced the compilation of a Supreme Court short list to the Heritage Foundation and and the Federalist Society in the spring of 2016, months before Bannon was brought on as the Trump campaign's CEO. But the list was updated after that, even though it was still a Heritage/Federalist list. Why didn't Bannon see to it that more provocative names were added then? And if Team Trump didn't want to rock the boat then, why couldn't Trump have bypassed the list now and still found someone satisfactory to the religious-right base he was clearly trying to reassure with his lists?
Bannon has asserted authority over immigration policy in the Trump administration, and over the rollout of early administration initiatives, and he's declared himself a sufficient expert on national security that he needs to be in on every relevant meeting -- but he seems to be deferring to others on judges. There actually are limits to Bannon's ego. It seems that he doesn't think he's an expert on everything.
Bannionism might not be the most effective approach when Congress is involved. It's possible that one or two Republicans might not vote in lockstep if the president sent up, say, Ann Coulter for that Supreme Court seat. Bannonism works better in areas where the administration can act by executive fiat. And that may be the division of labor from now on -- Bannon for purely executive matters, the right-wing establishment for the rest.