What pandemic? Trump tries rapid shift to Supreme Court

On Facebook, the message was blasted out in ads. “FILL THAT SEAT!” blared one that began running Monday. “The President is right, we have an obligation to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, without delay!”

Trump’s campaign even turned the issue on Biden, Trump’s Democratic rival, criticizing him for not releasing a list of his own potential Supreme Court nominees. They cited a pledge Biden made in June to release a list, though he didn’t say when.

“Joe Biden is hiding his list of people he would consider if he were president,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said. “Biden knows that he is an empty vessel for the radical left and that’s why he’s refusing to be honest with the American people about who he would want on the court.”

Biden, who has been trying to turn the election into a referendum of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, has kept attention on the pandemic in speeches and events since Ginsburg’s death. On Sunday, the Democratic National Committee erected light displays across the country that said, “Trump Lied, 200,000 Died.” But by then much of the nation’s attention had shifted to the nation’s highest court.

“It helps Republicans for one reason — they were losing,” said John Pudner, a Trump supporter who worked for Republican presidential nominees Mitt Romney in 2012 and George W. Bush in 2000 and now leads Take Back Our Republic, a group that aims to use conservative solutions for political reform. “You want the story to change.”

Trump had once expected to campaign primarily on the economy, including a rising stock market and job growth. But he has faced criticism for downplaying the virus, failing to quickly produce tests and supplies and pushing governors and educators to reopen before certain federal benchmarks had been met.

In both national and battleground state polls, Trump has been lagging behind Biden since the pandemic caused economic shutdowns in the spring. He’s even lost his edge in traditionally red states.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Americans are still dying each day as experts warn of a second wave this winter. The United States is expected to pass 300,000 deaths by December and 378,000 by the end of 2020, according to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

“Obviously we’d rather be talking about the Supreme Court than Covid,” said a former Trump campaign aide.

Trump allies are pushing an undisciplined president to stay as focused as he can on the Supreme Court while also pushing his two other messages — the economy and law and order — that have polled well internally.

On Saturday, Trump is expected to nominate a woman to the nation’s highest court, just three days before the first presidential debate. He interviewed Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Monday and is expected to meet former Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Lagoa, now a federal appeals court judge.