As Donald Trump narrows his list of options for his next Supreme Court nominee, the president is weighing a variety of considerations, which according to Politico, includes “a potential nominee’s appearance as well as the look and feel of his or her family.”
“Beyond the qualifications, what really matters is, does this nominee fit a central casting image for a Supreme Court nominee, as well as his or her spouse,” the Republican close to the White House said. “That’s a big deal. Do they fit the role?”
Trump’s preoccupation with “central casting” has been a staple of his presidency, though his fixation hasn’t always worked in his favor. In March, for example, he chose Ronny Jackson, the then-White House physician, to oversee the Department of Veterans Affairs, in part because of the Navy admiral’s guise.
“He’s like central casting – like a Hollywood star,” Trump told donors at a fundraiser.
A month later, the president’s nominee withdrew under a cloud of controversy, in the wake of revelations the White House would’ve been prepared for if Team Trump put as much emphasis on qualifications as appearances.
But the president can’t seem to help himself. When describing Vice President Mike Pence, Trump likes to say he’s “central casting.” On his Inauguration Day, the president also turned to Defense Secretary James Mattis and said, “This is central casting.” When Trump considered Mitt Romney for his cabinet, Trump’s transition officials said the president believed Romney “looks the part of a top diplomat right out of ‘central casting.’” Rex Tillerson was described as having a “central casting” quality.
The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty told MSNBC after the election that “central casting” is “actually a phrase [Trump] uses quite a bit behind the scenes.”
As we discussed last year, I’ve heard other politicians and other presidents use the phrase, but not to this extent. Trump cares about “central casting” as if he were the executive producer of an elaborate show.
Because to a very real extent, that’s exactly how this president perceives his role.
Let’s not forget how Trump introduced Neil Gorsuch as his Supreme Court nominee last year: the president kept the conservative judge hidden behind a door for quite a while. When the president finally made the announcement and Gorsuch entered the room, Trump briefly strayed from his trusted teleprompter and asked the big question on his mind: “So was that a surprise? Was it?”
The theatricality was clearly important to the president. A New York Times report noted the next day that the announcement “had some of the unreal aspects of reality TV.” (With Trump, doesn’t everything?)
People close to the White House know this – and know how to exploit it. From the Poliitico report:
A picture of front-runner Brett Kavanaugh that has been circulating in Trump circles underscores how what matters to Trump is often very different from what matters to the Senate.
In the photo, Kavanaugh is being sworn in by Justice Kennedy to the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, while his wife, Ashley, dressed in a crisp, pale pink suit and pearls, holds the Bible under his hand and smiles.
“It looks all-American,” said one person, who noted that would be a plus in Trump’s book.
For now, let’s put aside how offensive it is to think an “all-American” look features a white man with a Bible alongside a smiling white woman “in a crisp, pale pink suit and pearls.” Compounding the problem is the fact that Trump’s focus on “central casting” limits his choices for powerful roles to those he believe look the part.
Circling back to our previous coverage, a couple of months before the 2016 election, Trump sparked a brief controversy when he said Hillary Clinton didn’t have a “presidential look.” It was brazenly sexist, of course, but it was also a reminder that in this giant media production, Trump has an image in his mind of how every part should be filled.
If you’re not out of “central casting,” evidently the president has little use for you.