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McFeely: Among his word salad in Fargo, Trump was crystal-clear about Supreme Court

President Donald Trump speaks at Scheels Arena in Fargo on Wednesday, June 27, 2018. David Samson / The Forum News Service

FARGO — President Donald Trump's rally at Scheels Arena last week went pretty much as expected, a mixture of classic hits ("Lock her up!" and "Build the wall!") and rambling word salad ("Do you see what they do? Bing, bing. Right? You see what they're doing? No, but do you see what they're doing?")

It's the Trump way. Get the adoring, red-cap-wearing crowd frothing at the mouth with talk of immigrants overrunning the country (so scary!) and an African-American woman from California being the face of the Democratic Party (even scarier!) and then wander off into several different directions, most of which lead to the president praising himself ("I'm smarter than anybody.").

It's worked so far and, judging by the raucousness inside the arena Wednesday night, June 27, it's working especially well in North Dakota. Trump was popular here on Election Day in 2016 and remains so, even if some are skeptical of his trade war without saying so too loudly.

But aside from the applause lines and the one-liners that are part of every Trump rally — he dropped a "You're fired!" from his reality TV days to his supporters' great delight — the president also painted a clear picture of the long-term future when he talked about the retirement of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, which was announced earlier in the day.

Trump will get to nominate a justice to replace Kennedy, an appointment that must be confirmed by the Senate. Supreme Court justices are appointed for life, unless they decide to retire.

What Trump said should delight conservatives and terrify liberals.

"We have to pick a great one," Trump said. "We have to pick one that's going to be there for 40 years, 45 years."

Despite the event being billed as a rally for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Cramer in his campaign against Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, those words were the most significant Trump said in Fargo.

The president outlined his desire to appoint a reliably conservative justice in the mold of the late Antonin Scalia, or his replacement, Neil Gorsuch, who will hold a seat on the Supreme Court for four decades or more.

This is significant. If Trump is true to his word, and that is always in question, he will attempt to appoint a justice who is not an experienced jurist in their 60s or even a rising star in their 50s. He will search for somebody in their 40s, and possibly nearer to 40 than 50, who will provide an unquestioned conservative bent to the court until 2058 or beyond.

Gorsuch, for example, is 50. He might be considered too old by Trump's new standard.

Bloomberg News reported Thursday, June 28, that the president is strongly considering Utah Sen. Mike Lee for nomination. Lee is 47, which means 40 years of service on the high court would not be out of the question. But as with anything when it comes to Trump, he might go in a different direction by tomorrow and another by next week.

You want to know Trump's legacy, regardless of how the rest of his time in the Oval Office turns out? You're looking at it — a solidly conservative justice, replacing a swing vote, who could potentially hold a seat for a generation and a half. If you have a child who is an 18-year-old high school senior, just beginning in the real world, that child will be near retirement when Trump's appointment is finished.

This is nothing necessarily new, of course. Presidents with Supreme Court appointments wield tremendous generational power. But this will be Trump's second appointment in 18 months of being president. He might just be getting started, especially if he wins a second term in 2020.

Conservatives are joyous and liberals fearful because Trump's appointment could swing the court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. That will likely happen and is a massive change to the landscape of the country.

As important as that is, it is only one thing the new justice would sway. Affirmative action, gay rights, gerrymandering, environmental issues, voting rights, privacy rights, the death penalty and issues we have not even begun to ponder will likely all break to the conservative side for the foreseeable future.

Trump's back-pats to Cramer and his pedestrian shots at Heitkamp will soon be forgotten. The silly, meaningless chants and boos inside Scheels Arena were little more than political theater. The tortured syntax and self-adulation from the president are, regrettably, part of the package.

But the time Trump spent talking about the Supreme Court appointment he will make shortly? Spot on. And by far the most important thing he talked about in Fargo, even if the rowdy Make America Great Again crowd didn't see it as an opportunity to scream its approval.

Mike McFeely
Mike McFeely is a WDAY (970 AM) radio host and a columnist for The Forum. You can respond to Mike's columns by listening to AM-970 from 8:30-11 a.m. weekdays.
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