I’ll spare you most of the jokes about how President Trump turned the Supreme Court nomination into a reality show. You’ve probably heard them already. (The process so mirrored “The Bachelor,” several folks quipped, that Mr. Trump would ask his nominee, “Will you accept this robe?”)
And look, it’s funny because it’s true. The Apprentice Administration was not especially subtle about flogging the prime time revelation of Anthony M. Kennedy’s proposed replacement as if it were a shocking season finale. The White House Twitter account even posted a video — with synth strings humming over a slow camera push-in on the podium — that looked like it was for the kind of TV event usually followed by an Andy Cohen panel.
But on one level, nominating Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in prime time — just like Neil M. Gorsuch in 2017 — was one of the most conventional things President Trump has done with television.
OK, hear me out: I realize that “conventional” is a relative term in an administration whose TV presence has included raving campaign-style rallies, a rambling political speech to a Boy Scout jamboree and a Michael Bay-style movie trailer for the North Korea summit.
But the actual 9 p.m. event Monday was the sort of thing that’s within recent political memory: A president tactically claiming a chunk of prime time for politically expedient messaging. George W. Bush held a similar nighttime announcement for his nomination of John G. Roberts Jr. in 2005.
The most reality-TV part of the show came before it aired: namely, the campaign of suspense, building to an announcement that Mr. Trump hyped for a week. The teases — that there were four finalists, that the decision would come down to the wire — made for familiar Trumpian theater, public yet opaque, prodding news cycles of excited rumor and mind-reading.
The guessing game had the advantage of playing to the media’s preference for stories about the media. Much advance coverage focused not just on the generational implications of the decision, but on how well the administration was keeping the choice from the press, treating the shell game like a proxy test of governance.
Having roped in TV interest, Mr. Trump secured the major networks and cable-news channels as a captive, or at least willingly surrendered, audience for an unrebutted pitch.
Though NBC News broke word of the choice minutes before the broadcast, Mr. Trump drew out Seacrestian suspense — “In a few moments, I will announce my selection” — while framing a decision he politically campaigned on as a high-minded search for a justice who would “set aside political views.”
Judge Kavanaugh, meanwhile, was introduced less as a jurist than as an American dad. He appeared with his wife and daughters — whose basketball teams he described coaching — and shared warm memories of his parents. This is how reality contestants get the hero’s edit: The show assures us that they’re doing it all for family.
The nominee also saved some praise for his benefactor, saying that “No president has ever consulted more widely” about a nomination. I’m not sure that passes a fact-check, but Mr. Trump was likely the first to consult Fox News’s Sean Hannity, whose 9 p.m. hour the announcement kicked off, and who instantly counterattacked “the smearing, the besmirching, the fear-mongering and assassinating the character of Judge Kavanaugh.”
Was Judge Kavanaugh’s speech informative about how he might rule on any of the big issues, like the fate of Roe v. Wade, on which he would likely be a decisive vote? Not even a little bit, and that’s just how announcements like this are designed to keep things, even in administrations with a more orthodox media strategy.
The rollout, designed to maximize attention and put a flattering argument before a mass audience (who heard only brief analysis before the broadcast networks cut back to scheduled programming), may have been the sort of thing establishment Republicans were hoping for when their party elected a former NBC star president.
The hope, among party members who stuck with Mr. Trump precisely for rewards like this court seat, was that he would govern like a TV producer. He would be his own Mark Burnett, staging slick spectacles for the camera while advancing a conventional G.O.P. agenda behind the scenes. As Newt Gingrich put it shortly after the election, he would be “the executive producer of a thing called the American government.”
In practice, Mr. Trump has instead spent much of his presidency behaving like a reality-TV character rather than a producer — acting out for the cameras, thriving on chaos and instigation, rhetorically overturning tables like a Real Housewife.
On Monday, he reined things in, or at least the producers within his administration did. (Last week, he named Bill Shine, forced out as a Fox News executive over his handling of sexual harassment scandals, as deputy chief of staff for communications.)
Mr. Trump used his own remarks Monday night to invoke Ronald Reagan, who appointed Justice Kennedy, and whose attorney general, Edwin Meese III, was in the audience. But the evening suggested a different comparison to the former actor-president and the current reality-host-president: This time, Mr. Trump stuck to a script.