Politics

Analysis: Why Conservatives Tolerate a Stormy Presidency

Kavanaugh picks shows why they were willing to tolerate him, while what they tolerate was performing across town

Stephanie Clifford, also known as adult film star and director Stormy Daniels, arrives for her first night of her two-night appearance surrounded by security at The Cloakroom strip club in Washington on Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

On Monday night, President Donald Trump held the big reveal of his Supreme Court reality show.

Ever the one for ratings, Trump knew he won “big league” with social conservatives last year when he nominated Neil Gorsuch to the high court.

In fact, “But Gorsuch” stress balls were handed out at a meeting of the Federalist Society last year as a joke to reassure uneasy conservatives that they had made the right choice in backing Trump despite their misgivings.

In fact, Leonard Leo, a Federalist Society executive, advised Trump on his pick to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Social conservative groups immediately praised Trump’s selection Monday of Brett Kavanaugh.

“He is exceptionally qualified for the role and will no doubt serve as a fair, independent judge who will remain faithful to the Constitution,” the March For Life, which opposes abortion rights, said in a statement.

Watch: Trump Nominates Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court

But at the same time Trump was making his announcement, a reminder of the president’s tabloidy personal life was finishing her first performance of the night.

At Washington’s Cloakroom gentlemen’s club, Stephanie Clifford, the adult film actress who goes by Stormy Daniels, appeared for the first of a two-night stand.

Clifford, of course, has stayed in the headlines (and her attorney Michael Avenatti has stayed on cable TV) since she said in January that she had an affair with Trump in 2005 and was paid $130,000 in 2016 to keep quiet about it by Trump’s longtime fixer and personal attorney Michael Cohen.

After waiting for her for more than 2½ hours, the audience (many of whom were journalists) heard an introduction that played heavy on her Trump connection —  the emcee bragged that Daniels’ “60 Minutes” interview was the most-watched in a decade.

Afterward, Clifford sauntered into the main room and performed, without uttering a single word, let alone anything about Trump, for a little more than 20 minutes. Afterward, she walked past questions from a reporter before security threw up a hand indicating she would not be answering questions.

The contrast in events in Washington between Trump's Kavanaugh announcement and Clifford's appearance is different from when conservatives had reservations about the Republican presidential nominee in 2016 because they now know Trump will fulfill his promises.

Many Republicans distanced themselves from Trump then after he called for banning Muslims.

Weeks before the election, when a tape from 2005 showed him bragging about sexually assaulting women, many unendorsed him, thinking he was politically radioactive and would endanger their own prospects.

But last month, when Gorsuch joined the conservative majority in upholding Trump’s ban on travel from majority-Muslim countries, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell showed no misgivings about having backed Trump.

Rather, he tweeted a photo of himself and Gorsuch as a reminder it was he who blocked former President Barack Obama’s nomination of a Supreme Court Justice to fill Justice Antonin Scalia’s spot until Republicans had a shot at the Oval Office.

Now McConnell hopes Kavanaugh’s nomination will motivate conservative voters to turn out in the midterm elections — when the sitting president's party usually underperforms — and keep control of Congress.

Doing the SCOTUS Math: Seven Senators, Three Factions, One Crucial Vote

And chances are many conservatives will vote to hold the GOP majority without thinking much about the president’s personal conduct despite saying pre-Trump that personal conduct was an important factor.

Perhaps the biggest example of these dueling interests comes with Tony Perkins, chairman of the Family Research Council.

Earlier this year, Perkins was criticized for telling Politico Trump got a “mulligan” for his previous conduct with Clifford and others.

But on Monday night, Perkins simply praised Trump's selection.

"For a second time, President Trump has followed through on his promise to select a nominee from the list he presented during the campaign," he said. "President Trump promised a constitutionalist – someone who will call balls and strikes according to the Constitution. We trust the president that Judge Kavanaugh will fit this mold as a justice."

The Kavanaugh nomination shows why conservatives can tolerate Trump. Clifford’s performance is an example of what they’re willing to tolerate.

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