There was only ever one name in it.
Her high-profile anti-abortion stance riled liberals. And with an election approaching in a little over a month, Trump wanted the energy that her conservative, Catholic credentials would bring to his coalition of white and evangelical Christian culture warriors, according to a figure familiar with his thinking.
“Plus, he loves that Democrats are furious with her already,” said the source.
The other four names, all respected legal heavyweights in their own right, were part of the Trump theater, designed to keep his audience guessing and the drama turned up to 10.
And although any of the five would have been welcomed by Trump supporters, Barrett’s very public record as a conservative is already being picked over by allies for use in the reelection campaign.
David Bossie, who served as deputy Trump campaign manager in 2016, said, “These types of events that you cannot plan on can be pivotal. This nominee will absolutely excite an already excited base to turn out to vote to reelect Donald Trump.
“Putting justices on the court helped get this president elected in 2016, and it will help him get reelected in 2020.”
That push fits with a reelection strategy that was already aimed at revving up the base, according to John Fredericks, a radio host and member of the Trump/Pence 2020 advisory board.
“This election is about mobilization, not persuasion,” he said. “We’ve got to get our people out on Election Day. Amy Coney Barrett motivates a huge election day turnout for us.”
Her public anti-abortion stance is already well known. But she has also staked out positions against immigration, gun control, and the Affordable Care Act.
Outside groups are already mobilizing around what is certain to be a contentious nomination.
America First Policies has just completed polling in the battleground state of Pennsylvania. When asked whether they thought Trump should nominate a replacement and the Senate should hold a confirmation vote before the election, 51% of voters said the president should move forward, including 66% of independents.
And when asked how important the issue of a Supreme Court vacancy would be in deciding their vote for president, 66% said it was important, 72% of Republicans, 62% of Democrats, 68% of independents, and 70% of Catholics.
The group is ready to go with $5 million in national television, digital, and mail advertising to promote the nomination of Barrett.
“We have reserved ad time during the first presidential debate. We will be adding to this spend, as the nomination advances,” said Kelly Sadler, the communications director of America First Policies.
“Right now, we’re looking to introduce Judge Barrett to the American people. To lay out her incredible credentials: an accomplished lawyer and impeccable jurist, a loving mom and a woman of faith. We have the votes. We now need to win the argument.”
The Republican National Committee also announced a $10 million digital ad campaign, a get-out-the-vote effort in target states, and a rapid response operation to amplify Barrett’s qualifications.
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said, “With a full-throttled effort from now until President Trump’s nominee is confirmed, our teams will expose Democrats’ partisanship, aggressively promote the qualifications of Judge Barrett, and use this issue to galvanize voters to the polls in November.”
The calculus is that although she could energize Trump’s opponents — the rush to replace Ginsburg spurred a flood of donations to progressive groups, for example — the 2018 midterm elections suggest that Democrats are not lacking in energy anyway. Instead, they could be tempted into overreach, attacking Barrett’s Catholicism, alienating millions of voters and bringing accusations of hypocrisy, when Biden talks openly of his own faith.
Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said there was no doubt the pick could improve Trump’s chances of reelection.
“This pick helps,” he told MSNBC. “I think the Biden campaign and the Democrats need to be smart about how they approach this nominee.”
Fredericks said going after her faith or her family, which includes two adopted children from Haiti, would be a losing strategy.
“She’s going to be very difficult for Democrats to tear down in the way they did to Kavanaugh and others,” he said.