Today Is The Seventh Anniversary Of The Secret Trade That Put Trump In the White House
How Sen. Ted Cruz and The Federalist Society Used the Shaping of the Supreme Court as the Price for Trump to get the GOP machinery behind him in 2016
Seven years ago, on this date, a backroom trade occurred that would shift the future of the Presidency, the Republican party - and the Supreme Court, to where it all is today. Remarkably, very few people in the media paid much heed at the time.
Donald Trump, then the Republican nominee for President, who lacked the support of the financial and ideological center of his party, had been struggling in the polls against Hillary Clinton.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R. Tx) who’d come second in the Republican race, and who did have the support of the GOP establishment, had refused to endorse Trump at the Republican Convention.
Cruz’s chief worry, shared by the Federalist Society (Fed Soc), the conservative lawyers’ club he’d joined at Harvard Law School, was that Trump didn’t really care about the Supreme Court. The fear was that in Trump-fashion, were he elected President, he might nominate a bunch of cronies to the Court, who had not been groomed by the GOP establishment (aka Fed Soc). A guy atop Fed Soc called Leonard Leo and Sen. Cruz, were adamant that a list hand-picked by Leo was exclusively what Trump must select from. The greatest urgency was in the vacancy created by the death of Antonin Scalia. The Holy Grail for a new Conservative court would be something Cruz and Leo, both staunch Catholics, had long talked about: repealing Roe v. Wade.
And, under pressure in the polls, on this date seven years ago, Trump (or Trump’s campaign staff) agreed to do a deal. He announced he’d choose his next Justice exclusively from a list given to him by the Federalist Society. And, in return Sen. Cruz endorsed Trump on Facebook.
It was a Friday, a slow news day.
And, at the time few people reported on the import of what was happening.
But it WAS important. It led to a handpicked new Supreme Court - and the repeal of Roe V Wade.
As you’ll hear in my new Audible podcast series, Pipeline to Power, the Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell absolutely understood the bigger ramifications.
Without Cruz and the Republican financial machinery, Trump did not stand much chance of winning the Presidency.
Here’s a transcript of a snippet of the audio around this:
So, it’s now spring of the 2016 election year. The senate is stacked. Garland is off the table. Leonard Leo’s campaign engine is ready to hit go. They just need the right president - to nominate the right justice.
SOT TRUMP MAGA we will make america great again
So when Donald Trump started pulling ahead in the Republican primaries - all eyes were on him. The most unlikely presidential candidate the GOP has possibly ever had. Someone with no fixed ideology - other than an absolutely unwavering belief in himself and his invincibility.
SOT TRUMP (54:25): I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger.
Back at the Federalist Society, there was concern. Trump was unpredictable. And Steve Calabresi told us that some people feared that Trump would pick his friends for the bench.
Steve Calabresi: A lot of very undesirable people like Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie and that guy Corey Lewandowski. And, you know, some of the really seedy characters who hang Trump hung around with.
But not for the first time the Fed Soc network proved invaluable, in fact, unbeatable. Its influence and network turned out to be something Trump literally could not afford to ignore.
Lee: My understanding of what happened is that Don McGahn who was council to Trump's, presidential election effort, you know, called Jonathan Bunch, who was working with Leonard on, uh, on, on, uh, on various, uh, uh, things and was in particular in charge of the, you know, an effort to bring attention to state court, uh, activity, um, called on Jonathan and said, um, uh, uh, you know, do you have any suggestions for us, for the Supreme court?
Mcgahn met with Leonard Leo at McGahn’s offices at the law firm Jones Day in Washington, DC. Leo gave him a list of 11 names of approved possibilities for the Supreme Court. The media interpreted Trump’s move as a political message to conservatives.
CNN report on list:
(00:00 - 00:34) " look the reason Donald trump is putting these names out here I think is to send a signal to the rest of the party that they don't necessarily need to worry about him not being as conservative as they would like as they would like on some of these issues, especially at a time when he’s trying to rally the party behind him"
TRUMP SOT to Breitbart: you saw the 11 names I gave, and we're gonna have great judges, conservative, all picked by Federalist Society.
But Trump didn’t say he would pick exclusively from that list to replace Scalia. He just said that he liked “those kind of nominees.”
FedSoc didn’t trust Trump.
But Fortunately they had leverage.
Even after Trump became the Republican nominee. Because Senator Ted Cruz, a Fed Soc member, had come in second in the primaries - and he refused to endorse Trump. Trump knew that he was vulnerable without the support of the mainstream Republicans.
So, with six weeks to go before the election, Senator Cruz proposed a trade.
In his book, Senator Cruz writes: “The price of my endorsement was explicit. I wanted a clear, unequivocal commitment that he would nominate Scalia’s replacement from a specified list, and ONLY from that list."
Trump, in turn, would get Cruz’s supporters to get behind him..
On September the 23rd, Trump announced an updated Fed Soc approved list of possible Supreme Court justices. Critically - he said that he would ONLY go off of that list to replace Scalia.
Within minutes Ted Cruz endorsed Trump on Facebook.
NOW, the GOP machinery clicked in behind Trump.
Here’s Senator Mitch McConnell:
(SOT) Mitch McConnell to Kentucky FedSoc: (15:30) “The establishment of the list reassured a lot of skeptical Republicans, on the inside, and then by the fall on the outside and became the single biggest issue… to bringing our side in line along him and allowed him in part to win the election.”
In fact, no one I’ve spoken to believes Trump could have won the election without it.