During the Supreme Court’s oral arguments last week over a suit against the Trump administration’s third travel-ban order, the most important principle protecting the president from a finding that his order was fatally tainted by an unconstitutional discriminatory intent was the notion that a president is no longer identified with the things he said as a “private citizen.” But it was obvious that his judicial defenders would be relieved if he’d repudiate the nasty religious prejudice he had embraced as a candidate by advocating a “Muslim ban.”
As Politico reports, Trump was asked if he’d do that, and rejected the idea categorically:
“There’s no reason to apologize. Our immigration laws in this country are a total disaster. They’re laughed at all over the world, they’re laughed at for their stupidity. And we have to have strong immigration laws,” Trump said, when asked at a news conference about the Supreme Court comments. “So I think if I apologize, wouldn’t make ten cents worth of difference to them. There’s nothing to apologize for.”
His Justice Department attorneys seem to have anticipated that by arguing that the administration was implicitly abandoning the “Muslim ban” idea by framing the travel ban geographically. But an explicit abandonment? No dice.
This leaves two explanations of Trump’s posture, neither of which is very comforting (or for that matter, mutually exclusive). The first is that he is pathologically incapable of admitting error. This possibility has been repeatedly aired on the many, many occasions he has been caught in a lie or a factual mistake or an exaggeration or a flip-flop. As the Washington Post’s John Wagner noted late last year, it’s a pattern we’ve seen over and over:
Since his emergence as a presidential candidate, he has repeatedly refused to accept blame for setbacks or admit he’s made a mistake. Instead, the president is quick to try to shift responsibility, deny he ever did something in the first place or otherwise dissemble.
Many politicians (and other people) have this tendency to a limited or even an abundant extent. Trump stands in a small category of dangerous people in making it a near-invariable habit. And needless to say, he’s in a job where (a) regularly lying and (b) being unable to admit mistakes and hence correct them are serious occupational handicaps.
The other rationale for refusing to repudiate the “Muslim ban” pledge is, of course, arguably worse: a belief that the political value of appealing to religious prejudice offsets the legal peril of loudly and proudly advocating a blatant violation of a fundamental constitutional right. And from Trump’s narrow point of view, you could see him making that devilish calculation. So what if a five-four majority of the Supreme Court decides that anti-Muslim bigotry has fatally tainted his travel ban? It just validates Trump’s claim that unelected judges are denying the people the policies they want and deserve. And it’s all the more reason he needs a second term in the White House to get some more real conservatives on the Court and rid the country of this pointy-headed politically correct thinking, along with Roe v. Wade and other “judicial activist” decisions.
I personally think both of these factors are interacting to keep Trump from apologizing for his campaign demagoguery. Which is why we will be hearing more of it whenever it’s convenient for him.