WASHINGTON – Donald Trump has now been president for all or part of 13 days. It’s a testament to just how rocky his time in office has been that Tuesday — his 12th day as the 45th president — was the first really good one he’s had since Jan. 20.
The highlight of the day for Trump was the selection of Neil Gorsuch, a Colorado appeals court judge, to fill the vacancy left on the Supreme Court by the death of Antonin Scalia. Trump used his unique ability to build suspense — the two men were reported to be headed to Washington for a “Bachelor”-like showdown! — to dominate the day’s news coverage. And he used the newness of his presidency — as well as his indisputable knack for TV ratings — to secure a primetime slot to make the announcement.
He and his team also managed to keep his selection largely secret. (National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru reported the pick a few hours before Trump made it.) The ability to operate in stealth and show the discipline to keep a secret, well, secret was something that many Trump critics didn’t believe he was capable of.
When the official announcement came, it was exactly what every conservative who voted for Trump despite their doubts about him had dreamed of: a true conservative justice with the sort of pedigree (Harvard, Oxford) that will make it tough for Democrats to stand in unified opposition to the pick.
Trump’s speech introducing Gorsuch was (relatively) brief and (relatively) modest. Gorsuch then stepped to the mic and knocked it out of the park, delivering a humble thank you that any politician — no matter the party — couldn’t have been anything but impressed by.
While the Gorsuch pick was clearly the centerpiece of Tuesday in Washington, Trump got some help from other places too. Homeland Security Chief John Kelly pushed back hard on reports that he had not been adequately briefed on the travel ban before Trump signed it into law on Friday. “We did know the executive order was coming,” Kelly told reporters. “We knew it was coming, it wasn’t a surprise it was coming and then we implemented it.”
And that was mostly it. It’s odd to say that a day when a Supreme Court nominee gets announced was quiet. But, when compared to the previous 11 days of President Trump, Tuesday was, relatively speaking, a slow news news day.
That’s a very good thing for Trump whose executive orders, tweets and other machinations over the first week and a half in the White House left lots and lots of people — including some supporters — a bit shell-shocked. While Trump revels in keeping people on their toes, it’s not always the best thing to have the first question everyone asks every day to be “What the heck is he going to do next?”
What Tuesday showed, broadly speaking, was a level of discipline — from Trump to Kelly to White House press secretary Sean Spicer — that had been sorely lacking in this White House up until then. It showed that Trump — and his administration — can adhere to a single message even if they haven’t often done it.
As always with Trump, of course, one day means not very much. By Wednesday morning, Trump was back tweeting about the travel ban-but-don’t-call-it-a-ban: Everybody is arguing whether or not it is a BAN. Call it what you want, it is about keeping bad people (with bad intentions) out of country!
Fighting a rhetorical battle over the controversial policy that even Republicans acknowledge was confusing when rolled out is picking the wrong fight if you are Donald Trump. And it suggests that day 13 of his presidency won’t go as well as day 12. But, given how the previous 11 days went, Tuesday counted as a major victory in Trumpland.