Politics

Donald Trump walking away from the citizenship question was a giant cave in a week of caves

Let us now take a moment for a prolonged, reverent, highly spiritual, and deeply soul-cleansing Snoopy dance over yet another of Donald Trump’s absolute and abject failures.

On Thursday, Trump let the nation know he was ready to put an end to his efforts to place a question about citizenship on the 2020 census. Trump did so after he fought for the question in the district courts and lost. And took it to the appellate court. And lost. And hustled it before the Supreme Court. And lost. Then, displaying an incredible taste for crow, Trump told William Barr and his crack team of toadies to oust the attorneys who had been defending the case to that point, and start over with All New Attorneys and All New Reasoning. And in doing so, Trump demonstrated that it’s possible to lose even more, even after you’ve already lost.

Finally, after weeks of proclaiming that he could solve all this with a single scrawl of his magic executive order Sharpie, Trump called a friends-only press conference in the Rose Garden, set up a podium, and marched out with Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross at his sides … to admit utter defeat.

As Axios notes, it was a “cave” that “stunned Trump’s allies.” It also showed that every ounce of effort expended on trying to help Trump roll this boulder uphill was “a total waste of time” that makes his owned-and-operated party less enthusiastic about signing on to whatever windmill-tilt is next on Trump’s chaotic agenda.

Trump tried to pass this off by declaring that he would get the information by other means, and Barr made it clear that Republicans had absolutely not given up on the idea of using fear tactics to secure even more disproportionate representation for rural white districts. But all that was little more than a smoke screen in front of the yawning mouth of a “full cave.”

But it least Trump did it on the day of his social media summit, at a time when the sheer black-hole-dwarfing force of the Nazis and conspiracy theorists gathered on the White House lawn was enough to generate a prolonged, and deeply ironic, Twitter outage. Because only a collection of birthers, 9/11 truthers, and Q-theorists would take Trump’s “I meant to do that” statements seriously.

And maybe the best thing about all of this is that Trump’s biggest problem wasn’t the citizenship question. There seems to be little doubt that, had Trump done a halfway decent job of dressing it up nicely, a majority of the ultraconservative court would have signed on to the Scare Away Brown People order and asked for seconds. What killed Trump on this one was simply Trump. Or, at least, Trump and his whole collection of not-the-funny-kind supremacist clowns.

Trump’s White House did such a bad job of covering up the clear path back to its racist rationale for the question that even the most conservative-leaning court this side of Dred Scott couldn’t find a way to hand him a win. 

So instead, they offered Trump a do-over. Not just a do-over, but one that came complete with a list of instructions bearing what might as well have been block-letter headings to spell out “Here are the arguments we could accept” and “Here are the things you definitely can’t say when trying to cover up racism.” But even with that list in hand, the Trump team could not pull it off, due to a combination of internal squabbling and the depth of the pit it had already dug for itself.

Just one short week ago, Trump declared that he was “absolutely” moving forward to get the question included on the census. He made it not just a goal, but also a symbol of his ability to push back against the judiciary branch. Then he folded at a rate that makes wet cardboard sneer.

That is worth one (1) certified happy dance. Then get back to work.


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