Conservative Groups Unify to Push Neil Gorsuch’s Confirmation

Gorsuch_nominated.png

NEW YORK TIMES - WASHINGTON — They are three dozen of the best-financed, most battle-hardened players in the conservative movement — among them, the Koch network, the National Rifle Association and leading evangelical and anti-abortion groups.

Their grass-roots organizations extend to precincts and parishes in all 50 states. And their causes span the full spectrum of issues that animate the right’s most devoted followers, meaning they don’t always see eye to eye.

But on this they agree: They cannot take any chances that President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court is stopped.

Right after the election — before some of them had ever even heard of Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, the federal judge Mr. Trump named on Tuesday to fill the high court vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia — conservative groups banded together in what they expect to be a multimillion-dollar campaign to fight what they say could become the most contentious Supreme Court confirmation battle since Justice Clarence Thomas’s in 1991.

Mr. Trump’s final choice was almost a moot point.

The groups drew up mock websites to promote the candidates they thought most likely to be picked, working from the list of 21 names Mr. Trump said comprised his finalists. They started planning megachurch gatherings and produced television commercials that would be ready to ship out as soon as the nominee was known. And on Tuesday night, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, one of the three dozen groups involved, pushed the button to print 1.8 million postcards that will go out to supporters in a dozen states that were carried by Mr. Trump but have Democratic senators.

The design and messaging — “Emergency Call to Action!” — were already set. All the group needed to do was to plug in Judge Gorsuch’s name and picture into the blank spaces on its template.

The Judicial Crisis Network started working on its campaign for Judge Gorsuch weeks ago, building on the organizational work it had done to block President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick B. Garland for the Scalia seat. For Judge Gorsuch, as well as other possible nominees from Mr. Trump’s list they considered likely, they located videos of old speeches, pictures of him and his family and legal writings. They had even already purchased the URL for a promotional website, ConfirmGorsuch.com. The site went live Tuesday night at 8:05.

“The Supreme Court unifies our whole team more than anything else — and we do usually have more trouble than the left in being unified,” said Gary Marx, who is coordinating the coalition’s grass-roots efforts for the Judicial Crisis Network.

“In this Week 1 and Week 2,” he vowed, “you’re going to see shock and awe.” The Judicial Crisis Network has said it will spend $10 million on a campaign to support Mr. Gorsuch.

In a demonstration of how closely Mr. Trump plans to rely on the coalition, he gathered several of its leaders at the White House on Wednesday, including the N.R.A. president, Wayne LaPierre; the antitax activist Grover Norquist; and Marjorie Dannenfelser, who heads the Susan B. Anthony List, a group that opposes abortion. The scene, in the Roosevelt Room, was a vivid reminder of how the changeover in Washington has opened the White House door to conservative movement players who found themselves shut out for the last eight years.

The breadth of their effort underscores what the movement considers to be at stake. Business regulations, abortion restrictions, religious expression and voting rights could all be before the court in the coming years.

The mobilization now underway illustrates the unique power that the Supreme Court has in energizing the right. Exit polls showed that 21 percent of voters said the court was the most important factor in their decision. Mr. Trump overwhelmingly carried them, 57 percent to Hillary Clinton’s 40 percent.

In an attempt to placate skeptical conservatives during his campaign, he took the unprecedented step of providing movement leaders with the list of names from which he would pick, leaving activists reasonably assured that they would be comfortable with his decision. They felt that assurance because many of them — including those now working on the Gorsuch confirmation campaign — suggested the names in the first place.

“He was smart enough to understand that he needed to make that promise, and in a highly tangible and credible way,” said Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and one of the conservative leaders Mr. Trump invited to the White House on Tuesday to watch the Gorsuch announcement. “That was, of course, because of the deep paranoia on the right that he would betray him.”

Photo
A postcard sent to members of the Faith and Freedom Coalition in West Virginia urging them to contact Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, about confirming Judge Gorsuch. Credit Faith and Freedom Coalition

In the end, 81 percent of white evangelicals, a group Mr. Trump initially struggled to win over, voted for him.

Now, many of them — and more — are going to battle for him. The Susan B. Anthony List is working to pressure Democratic senators facing re-election in 2018.

The Family Research Council is planning a simulcast that will be broadcast in evangelical churches across the country to rally support for Judge Gorsuch. “The presidential election energized people in a way I have not seen,” said Tony Perkins, the group’s president, who was also at the White House on Tuesday night. “The evangelical community is engaged. They’re basically waiting for direction.”

The N.R.A. plans to engage its members on the issue of the Heller decision, the 5-to-4 ruling in 2008 in which the Supreme Court protected the right to handgun ownership. Judge Gorsuch, said Chris Cox, executive director of the N.R.A.’s political arm, “will protect our right to keep and bear arms and is an outstanding choice to fill Justice Scalia’s seat.”

In a Republican Party that is already showing signs of strain over the frenzied first two weeks of Mr. Trump’s presidency, the confirmation process could be a unifier, especially if Democrats begin to quickly and aggressively resist. And it could provide a fresh impetus at a time when the left is showing its own signs of organization and mobilization.

“The fact of the matter is, we’ve never had a movement that has this kind of breadth and depth,” said Leonard Leo, a veteran of previous confirmation fights who has been advising Mr. Trump’s White House on the selection.

Mr. Leo attributed the passion to what he said was the emphasis that conservatives place on the court. “Armies that are premised on fundamental principles are bigger and they are more committed,” he added.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

Volunteer Donate Spread the Word