The potential pick was not the woman Trump nominated on Saturday night, though by the end of the week he was enthusiastically telling friends his choice of Amy Coney Barrett had the potential to salvage his political career.
Instead, his imagination seemed temporarily stoked by Barbara Lagoa, the Florida-born judge who sits on the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals. In a phone call to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the hours after Ginsburg's death was announced, Lagoa was one of a few names Trump floated as his potential pick, according to people familiar with the call. Jetting back to Washington from a rally in Minnesota on the night Ginsburg died, Trump quizzed aides whether Lagoa had to potential to secure him Florida's 29 electoral votes, people familiar with the conversations said.
Egged on by members of his political team and allies in the state, Trump appeared captivated in conversations last weekend by the prospect of nominating a woman whose biography -- daughter of Cuban exiles with roots in a community that could prove critical to his re-election -- so obviously aligned with his political prerogatives.
Yet within a day or so, Trump's newfound excitement for Lagoa had diminished so dramatically that she never received a formal sit-down with the President -- her chances dashed by the intersection of an impossibly fraught timeline that left little room for error, intense pressure from some of his advisers to make a safe selection and a religious right galvanized by Barrett, the woman Trump ultimately selected for the seat.
"I looked and I studied, and you are very eminently qualified for this job," Trump told Barrett in the Rose Garden on Saturday. "You are going to be fantastic."
This account is based on interviews with nearly a dozen sources, including White House officials, conservative allies and people close to the process, many who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly about Trump's selection process. Coming two months before an election that polls currently show him losing, this year's Supreme Court vacancy has the potential both to reshape that race and to significantly alter the ideological tilt of the high court for years.
Over the course of two days this week, Trump's decision seemed cemented when he met with Barrett for hours at the White House, including lengthy one-on-one sessions without any aides present. Unlike their interview two years ago for an earlier Supreme Court vacancy, when officials walked away believing she had failed to impress a President drawn to big personalities with Ivy League degrees, this time Trump and Barrett appeared to gel personally, people who spoke to the President afterward said.
So convinced did Trump seem in his selection that aides scheduled no formal interviews with any other potential candidates -- including Lagoa.
Still, the evening before announcing Barrett as his Supreme Court pick, Trump was continuing to poll his supporters during a fundraiser at his hotel in Washington about whom he should nominate to the vacant seat, accor