Among the bolder alternative facts volunteered by Donald Trump is his repeated insistence that no president has accomplished more in so little time. With the exception of Franklin Roosevelt, Trump told his Cabinet earlier this month, “There has never been a president . . . who’s passed more legislation, who’s done more things than what we‘ve done. . . . We’ve achieved tremendous success.” That, of course, was likely news to Capitol Hill, given that the bills Trump has signed are mostly inconsequential and his administration hasn’t yet managed to repeal Obamacare or overhaul the tax code. His “Infrastructure Week” was a bust; there’s apparently little progress being made on reforming care for veterans, or for addressing the opioid crisis, or on building “The Wall.” If he’s looking for superlatives, he could certainly declare that no other president has sent more tweets in his first five months in office, or golfed more in his first 100 days.
Trump is clearly insecure about his legacy and the possibility that he’ll leave the White House—perhaps sooner rather than later—without having accomplished anything. That fear may not be enough to get him to cut back on the hours he wastes watching cable news and tweeting. But luckily for the golf course owner, he may be able to cement quite the legacy without having to do much more work. In fact, the most consequential act of his presidency may be about to fall into his lap.
On Monday, the final week of the Supreme Court session ends, and with it has come renewed speculation that Justice Anthony Kennedy may announce his retirement. Kennedy, who at 80 is the second oldest after the 84 year-old Ruth Bader Ginsberg, is known as the court’s “ideological fulcrum,” often casting the deciding vote in the direction of his four conservative colleagues or his four liberal ones. More important than the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, whose ideology was a “one-for-one” swap for the late Antonin Scalia, nominating a full-fledged conservative to take the place of Kennedy would likely change the balance of the court for decades fulfilling a long-held Republican dream.
“A Kennedy retirement—whether it comes tomorrow, this week, or any time between now and 2019 (after that you can be sure Democrats would block any attempt to nominate a new justice, given the Merrick Garland precedent)—would mean in the eyes of many conservatives that Trump would be the man who changed the legal course of the country,” CNN’s Chris Cillizza notes. “He would become the new Reagan for many in the conservative movement. That perception would be almost entirely unaffected by any and all of the other things Trump has done or will do over the next three and a half years in office.”
The “New Reagan” is a pretty nice title for a man who may just happen to be in office when at least one Supreme Court justice departs the bench. But it’s also the primary reason a number of conservatives ultimately held their noses and voted for Trump, and the argument many of his boosters made to wary Republicans who were considering sitting out the election.
While Kennedy himself has been mostly tight-lipped about his future plans, White House counsel Don McGahn reportedly told the president recently that he expected Kennedy would indeed retire this year. Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway also stoked the flames, even as she declined to comment on the rumors. “I will never reveal a conversation between a sitting justice and the president or the White House, but we’re paying very close attention to these last bit of decisions,” she said Sunday on ABC’s This Week.