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Conservatives Who Love Amy Coney Barrett, but Not Trump

Conservatives Who Love Amy Coney Barrett, but Not Trump
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For the handful of conservative Republican lawmakers who have been at least somewhat willing to criticize Trump’s harms to democratic norms, Barrett’s nomination is a relief—a welcome return to rhetorical home turf, where they can talk about constitutional principles and the rule of law. Barrett “doesn’t think you slop applesauce on tablets and then call it law because it came from a judge,” Sasse said, cheekily citing Scalia’s famous dissent in the 2015 Supreme Court decision upholding Obamacare, in which he called the majority’s reasoning “pure applesauce.” But the rule of conservative politics in Washington has become clear: Those who want their lofty principles need to work through Trump’s patronage. People working on the nomination indicated to me that they believe Democrats have turned judicial nominations into an all-out war, with their attempts to sink Brett Kavanaugh and question Barrett’s faith. Their message to Democrats sounded distinctly Trumpian, albeit with a biblical flair: Live by the sword; die by the sword.

Some conservatives worry that their movement will be hurt by the legacy of this era, especially when it comes to the battles over the courts. “We are in a race to the constitutional bottom,” Longwell said. If Republicans successfully confirm Barrett to the Supreme Court but lose badly in November, Democrats might attempt to pack the court with more justices who are favorable to their cause, which would invite further retaliation from conservatives in the future. Forget lofty principles—we will “find ourselves in an environment where it is raw political power all the way down. There are no more attempts at compromise. There are no more attempts at finding common ground,” Longwell said. Others believe Supreme Court victories for the anti-abortion-rights movement could be Pyrrhic, prompting a cultural backlash that will tilt public opinion in favor of expanded abortion rights. And because of the circumstances of Barrett’s nomination, her decisions might always be viewed through a partisan lens.

For now, conservatives are trying to relish the victory at hand. “I don’t spend a lot of my time on Donald Trump’s narcissistic tweeting,” Sasse said. “He is who he is, and everybody knows it.”

There’s a comic that’s become popular in the Trump era: A dog in a bowler cap sits at a table with a mug of coffee, assuring everyone, “This is fine,” while flames lick the walls of the room around him. For conservatives who are skeptical of Trump, Barrett’s nomination is a little like that: They see her as a last chance to shore up the constitutional principles they hold dear while the house of American democracy burns down around them.

Sasse didn’t know the meme—he’s semiretired from Twitter, where he used to maintain a prodigious presence. But he got the concept. Most of Sasse’s first Senate term has been dominated by the Trump era. He’s about to win his next six years in office, and he’d like to spend it governing—preparing America to compete with China, rebuilding public trust in institutions, and, of course, confirming more conservatives to the federal bench. But, he said, these efforts at governing keep getting derailed. “We’re constantly doing your dog-with-coffee-mug-burning-down-house stuff.”

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