Trump vs. Trump
Everyone has that friend with a defective filter between brain and mouth. Time and again, these people sacrifice hard work and seeming success only to sabotage the outcome due to an intractable need to speak their mind. Sometimes it is humorous. Sometimes it is infuriating. Sometimes it is just sad and disheartening.
It seems President Donald Trump plays out that Sisyphean role for the entire country. Zeus punished Sisyphus for being self-aggrandizing and deceitful. It seems the judicial branch has decided to treat Trump in like manner.
Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an injunction against Trump’s travel ban. It is not the first time we have been here. In fact, the 9th Circuit now joins the 4th Circuit and multiple federal district courts. Trump and his administration keep pushing their rock up the hill and courts keep sending it down. And like the Greek king, much of the reason can be traced back to Trump’s own words.
While other courts cited Trump’s campaign promises and rhetoric regarding Muslims to infer an impermissible religious test, the 9th Circuit landed on the president’s focus on countries — and not the individuals in those countries — in one of his famed tweetstorms. According to the court, that emphasis on countries made the order an improper extension of presidential power.
Of course, with an endless internet archive of tweets, stump speeches and campaign missives at their fingertips, Trump’s opponents have a full arsenal to fight him in court. By introducing Trump’s own words to contradict the position Trump’s lawyers argue, his opponents seemingly turn every proceeding into the case of Trump vs. Trump.
The 9th Circuit certainly thought so. The court expressly stated that Trump’s tweets were “official statements by the President of the United States.” Effectively, Trump is testifying 140 characters at a time.
Maybe the president should pick up a copy of The Denver Post from a few months ago and read the Perspective section dedicated to social media. I personally wrote about social media and how prosecutors scour Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and Instagram accounts to use against defendants. Multiply that prosecutor times hundreds of lawyers working against Trump’s proposals, thousands of journalists covering his every move, and millions of detractors across the country and globe, and the research becomes almost instantaneous. If even an hour goes by before Trump’s prior positions are brought up in a viral refutation, it feels like eons.
And that ignores the quiet, meticulous special prosecutor Robert Mueller. You can assume that his team has binders dedicated to just Trump’s own social media outbursts.
Still, the legal ramifications take a backseat to the damage Trump has done to his own agenda. Or at least the conservative policy agenda he claims to want. The candidate who promised to drain the swamp regularly makes it more intractable and unpassable. The quagmire swallowing his agenda is composed of the stagnant, fetid mud created by continually undermining his staff and allies.
For example, Trump railed for repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act on the campaign. Since taking office, though, he let others take the lead on this signature issue. Trump’s primary engagement comes in short bursts of glad-handing or smartphone-thumbing efforts to apply pressure. While his predecessor — from whom Obamacare earned its nickname — effected the legislation through lengthy, disciplined messaging over the course of years, Trump’s back and forth only serves to cement legislators where they already stand. Because he might change his mind later today — or maybe just after watching “Fox and Friends” — it becomes a fool’s errand for any legislator to tie herself to the president’s most recent position.
Trump won the presidency one tweet at a time. The same strategy has failed him since. Every time he pushes another boulder up the hill, it just comes back down again.
Mario Nicolais, an attorney, writes columns on law enforcement, the legal system and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq