Trump Considered Dumping Gorsuch Over Perceived Disloyalty

Report that President Trump considered withdrawing the Gorsuch nomination are another sign of his unhealthy obsession with pledges of loyalty from people who have no business giving it to him.

Trump Neil Gorsuch

The Washington Post reports that President Trump flirted with the idea of withdrawing the nomination of Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch earlier this year after reports about his responses to questions from a Democratic Senator seemed to indicate he wouldn’t be loyal to Trump in future rulings:

For nearly eight months, President Trump has boasted that appointing Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court ranks high among his signature achievements.

But earlier this year, Trump talked about rescinding Gorsuch’s nomination, venting angrily to advisers after his Supreme Court pick was critical of the president’s escalating attacks on the federal judiciary in private meetings with legislators.

Trump, according to several people with knowledge of the discussions, was upset that Gorsuch had pointedly distanced himself from the president in a private February meeting with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), telling the senator he found Trump’s repeated attacks on the federal judiciary “disheartening” and “demoralizing.”

The president worried that Gorsuch would not be ”loyal,” one of the people said, and told aides that he was tempted to pull Gorsuch’s nomination — and that he knew plenty of other judges who would want the job.

It is unclear whether Trump’s ”explosion,” as another administration official described it, truly put Gorsuch’s nomination in jeopardy or whether the president was expressing his frustration aloud, as he often does. But at the time, some in the White House and on Capitol Hill feared that Gorsuch’s confirmation — which had been shaping up to be one of the clearest triumphs of Trump’s tumultuous young presidency — was on the verge of going awry.

Trump blasted The Washington Post report on Gorsuch as “FAKE NEWS” on Twitter early Tuesday. “I never even wavered and am very proud of him and the job he is doing as a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court,” he tweeted. “The unnamed sources don’t exist!”

This account is based on interviews with 11 people familiar with the episode, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

Trump was especially upset by what he viewed as Gorsuch’s insufficient gratitude for a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court, White House officials said. The judge sent the president a handwritten letter dated March 2, thanking him for the nomination and explaining how grateful he was, according to a copy obtained by The Post.

“Your address to Congress was magnificent,” Gorsuch wrote. “And you were so kind to recognize Mrs. Scalia, remember the justice, and mention me. My teenage daughters were cheering the TV!”

The reference to “the justice” was to Antonin Scalia, the late justice whom Gorsuch replaced, and “Mrs. Scalia” is his widow, Maureen.

Aides said Trump did not immediately receive the note, but it was retrieved by legislative affairs director Marc Short and then viewed by Trump on March 10, helping ease his concerns.

“As head of legislative affairs, our team was in charge of his nomination, and never did I view his nomination in jeopardy, nor did the president ever suggest to me that he wanted to pull him,” Short said. ”The process obviously caused frustration, but that frustration was compounded by the fact that Gorsuch had sent him a personal letter that he never received.”

Gorsuch’s comments, which were also reported as having been made in response to a similar question from Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, back when they were first reported. Specifically, it was reported that Gorsuch had expressed dismay to both Blumenthal and Sasse over any attacks on the Judiciary, although he declined to specifically call out the President for the comments that he had made in the past. As I noted at the time, there was some speculation at the time that Trump might withdraw Gorsuch’s name from consideration based on the fact that the nominee had essentially repudiated Trump’s repeated attacks on the Judiciary both as a candidate and since becoming President. However, that kind of move seemed unlikely at the time since the Gorsuch nomination was one of the few things that the President had done up to that point that was receiving any real praise from outside observers and that, as things stood, it seemed likely that Gorsuch would ultimately be confirmed, giving the President something he could count as a win early in his Presidency. That ultimately, proved to be the case, of course, and the story basically died out after Gorsuch was confirmed.

As Aaron Blake notes in The Washington Post, though, this report is consistent with something we already know to be true about Trump, namely the fact that he is obsessed with getting pledges of loyalty even from people that have no place giving him one:

What’s perhaps most notable here is how thoroughly unsurprising this is. Time and again, Trump has been frustrated by a lack of fealty from those he has elevated to high-level posts. Sometimes, as with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump has a very reasonable expectation of loyalty. But where this has really blown up is when the Trump appointee is in a position in which loyalty to the chief executive isn’t really in the job description. And these conflicts have provided or cast a shadow over some of the defining moments of his presidency.

Among those whose lack of loyalty have reportedly frustrated Trump, in addition to Gorsuch, are former FBI director James B. ComeyAttorney General Jeff Sessions, and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. All three work for federal law enforcement, where their loyalty is to the law, and that has created clear conflicts with Trump because of the Russia investigation. Trump fired Comey, has frequently stewed about Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from the investigation and for his lack of initiative in going after Trump’s antagonists, and has repeatedly suggested Rosenstein (who appointed Russia special counsel Robert S. Mueller III) is a Democrat.

Trump has also been frustrated by what he sees as a lack of loyalty from Republican members of Congress who have failed to pass his agenda, ignoring the fact that they were elected by their own constituents and come from what the Constitution lays out as coequal branches of government.


The unhappiness with Gorsuch is really just an extension of all of this — and the kind of Trump behavior that earned Gorsuch’s rebuke in the first place. Trump had criticized the judiciary for halting his travel ban executive orders by suggesting the judges were biased and were acting beyond their mandate. He even suggested he might wage a campaign against judges who run afoul of him. This made pretty much anybody who believes in the separation of powers — and the judiciary’s independence from the executive branch — squeamish. It was the first time that many started worrying about Trump spurring a constitutional crisis.

All of this is consistent with something I have made note of regarding Trump in the past, specifically his obvious contempt for the Rule of Law:

Based both on his rhetoric and his actions, Donald Trump gives the impression of being a President who sees himself as  unconstrained by the law or the other branches of Government in the tradition of Jackson or Richard Nixon, both of whom set off Constitutional crises from which it took the nation years to recover. As in the case of those two previous Presidents, he would likely justify his actions by appealing to the same populist, anti-establishment rhetoric that has fueled his campaign from the start. The difference is that, this time, he would be President of the United States and his rhetoric would be tied to action that could do real damage to the Rule of Law and to the Constitution. Furthermore, unlike any of his predecessors, Trump seems to have command over a mob of supporters that would rush to his defense even when he was clearly wrong. This is why the arguments that equate Trump to the European far right, and even to fascists and authoritarians of the past, are completely on the mark. Either Donald Trump is lying to his supporters or he is the kind of man who cannot be trusted with political power even in a Constitutionally limited democratic republic. Under the circumstances, it would be foolish for anyone to believe that this is all a big con on Trump’s part, and much safer to assume that he quite simply cannot be trusted with political power.

There have been a varying degree of suggestions to try to explain this President’s obsession with pledges of loyalty, most especially from people in the government who have no business making such pledges. Some have pointed to it as further evidence of Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, which would certainly be consistent with his open admiration for former Presidents such as Andrew Jackson and the fact that he quite obviously seems more at home among the company of dictators from nations such as Egypt,  Saudi Arabia, The Phillippines and, of course, Russia than he does with long-standing democratic allies such as Great Britain, France, and Germany. For others, the roots lie in Trump’s psychology and his need for control and that the reassurance that people are loyal to him and him alone is more a personal thing than a political one. Whatever the explanation is, it’s not healthy and it’s not something that we ought to be seeing in the President of the United States.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    Trump thinks he’s hiring staff at Mara Lago. He’s a moron. He actually thought if he got elected the whole country would just roll over and wag its tail.

    As for his obsession with loyalty since he gives no loyalty he gets none, except what he can compel. He’s a psychopath, incapable of loyalty, but (justly) paranoid, so he uses DNDs and loyalty pledges and endless threats of litigation to shield his criminal activity from public view.

  2. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:

    You’re quite right; he thinks he’s hiring waitstaff, groundskeepers, and chambermaids. There’s no plumbing the depths Trump’s stupidity–his is the Marianas Trench of the intellect–but I still find it confounding that he hasn’t the wit to grasp the simple fact that he’s not running a reality show out of the executive suite at Mar-a-Lago.

  3. MarkedMan says:

    For some reason Trump thought he had Gorsuch’s loyalty until the conversations with congress critters leaked. What made Trump think he had Gorsuch’s loyalty in the first place? The logical assumption is that he explicitly asked for it and Gorsuch explicitly gave it. After all, we know what kind of a person Trump is. We know that he explicitly asked a sitting, respected FBI head to pledge personal loyalty him. The logical assumption is that he routinely asks the same from everyone he appoints. So I think it is nearing certainty that Gorsuch said the words “Yes, Mr. President, I will be loyal. I will have your back on the Russian thing.” The only question is whether he meant it in any way, or if he was just telling a chump what he wanted to hear, knowing that chump wouldn’t have any way to hold him accountable once on the bench.

  4. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    It’s important to note; Denture Donnie did deny ever doubting Gorsuch.
    However, given his penchant for loyalty, his pathological mendacity, and lacking any other evidence to the contrary…logic dictates the assumption of veracity in the WaPo story.
    I believe a comprehensive psychological evaluation would show the man unfit to drive an Uber, much less be the C-in-C of the United States.

  5. MarkedMan says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl: Given his 1300 lies since he has taken office, I don’t believe we are under any obligation to note that Trump denies this. Whenever Trump speaks it’s just words that happen to come out of his mouth. They don’t have any more meaning than if you threw a dictionary in a garbage can with a quarter stick of dynamite and pasted together whatever was left.

  6. KM says:

    Gorsuch owes Trump @^#%& and he knows it. Now that he’s on the bench, he has free reign to do as he pleases. If I were him, I’d have said whatever the windbag wanted to hear and not missed a wink of sleep when I inevitably double-crossed him. Seriously, what’s Trump gonna do – smear him on Twitter? Call him illegitimate and demand he step down? They *need* Gorsuch in the SC for the upcoming lawsuits Congress’ BS will create. Nobody’s even gonna consider touching that until RBG is six feet under and the SC is under their control for a generation.

    Donnie doesn’t seem to understand the appointees he’s putting in place will outlast him and, short of recall efforts or actual imprisonment, will be in office till they die regardless of the dirt that surfaces on them. Loyalty pledges means nothing to them in the long run. Trump thinks of people as replaceable cogs when in this case, *he’s* the replaceable one. Presidents come and go – judges tend to be around for a while. They’ll promise him the moon to get that appointment and he’s dumb enough to believe them.

  7. Kathy says:

    OMG! It takes about as much effort and political capital to remove a Supreme Court Justice as it does to remove a president. The former, moreover, have a lifetime appointment.

    But in the first place, the judiciary is independent of the other two branches of government.

    There’s ignorance, and then there’s a refusal to learn or to know.

    Tillerson was right: what a fucking moron.

  8. al-Alameda says:

    In retrospect it is somewhat surprising Trump moved into the White House. It’s clear that he wants to run the country like John Gotti would have. Trump should spend more time at the Ravenite Social Club, down on Mulberry Street in Little Italy, and less time at Mar-a-Lago. Although to be fair, the Ravenite Social Club does not have a golf course on the premises.

    Anybody know if the Ravenite was closed down after Gotti was taken down?

  9. Hal_10000 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    As for his obsession with loyalty since he gives no loyalty he gets none, except what he can compel. He’s a psychopath, incapable of loyalty, but (justly) paranoid, so he uses DNDs and loyalty pledges and endless threats of litigation to shield his criminal activity from public view

    This. For Trump, loyalty is always a one-way street. You sell your soul for him and he throws you under the bus whenever it suits him. We saw it with Flynn. We saw it with Gillespie. We saw it with Moore. We saw it with Strange. We see it with the constant staff firings.

    But Gorsuch has been confirmed to a seat. He can’t be thrown under the bus. I can’t WAIT until he issues a decision that crosses Trump. The meltdown will be epic. I’m sure, right now, Kelly has a plan to seize Trump’s phone.

  10. george says:

    Pretty standard Trump. His one and single ideology is Trump first and last. He’d be equally happy running the old USSR, the Roman Empire, America, being King of England or Emperor of old China so long as he was the main beneficiary of his rule.

    So of course personal loyalty is his prime concern – he doesn’t care about political ideology or values (he alternates between them as convenient), so why would he care if anyone follows any of them? For him the only important element is himself, so of course he considers loyalty the prime, perhaps the only requirement.

    That’s the strangest thing about his conservative supporters – how in the world can they think he is a conservative (or follower of any other political ideology). He clearly has never cared about their stated values or their religion, yet so many of them think he’s one of them. Its the most amazing con job, even going by the standards of politics (which is almost necessarily a con job even for the most well meaning politicians).

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Whatever the explanation is, it’s not healthy and it’s not something that we ought to be seeing in the President of the United States.

    Whocouldaknowed? 65,844,610 voters knew and are not in the least surprised.

  12. James Pearce says:

    “The unnamed sources don’t exist!”

    This account is based on interviews with 11 people familiar with the episode, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

    This is one of the things that bugs me most about Trump. He has absolutely no shame or ethics, but he’s got a steel spine.

    He literally denies that the sources exist, and the sources do too.

    It’s gonna be a long 8 years. I hope we all survive.

  13. george says:

    @James Pearce:

    This is one of the things that bugs me most about Trump. He has absolutely no shame or ethics, but he’s got a steel spine.

    Yeats called it first:

    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.