The view from a witness room facing the execution chamber of a "death house" at a correctional facility.
Photo by Caroline Groussain/AFP/Getty

Trump insists voters’ will matters (but only on some issues)

The Rachel Maddow Show, 3/12/19, 9:59 PM ET

California Governor Newsom moves to end state's death penalty

Rachel Maddow reports breaking news that California Governor Gavin Newsom is signaling that he intends to use executive action to end the use of the death penalty in California.
Rachel Maddow reports breaking news that California Governor Gavin Newsom is signaling that he intends to use executive action to end the use of the death penalty in California.
California, which operates one of the largest prison systems in the world, has had the death penalty since 1978, when it was reinstated by voters through a statewide ballot measure. Today, that policy will reportedly come to an end.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is scheduled to sign an executive order Wednesday that would place a moratorium on the state’s death penalty, according to his office.

NBC Los Angeles learned of Newsom’s plan to use his executive authority to halt the use of the death penalty early Tuesday evening through law enforcement sources.

A subsequent statement from the governor’s office detailed the plan to halt the death penalty for all 737 people on California’s death row, the nation’s largest. The statement includes prepared remarks Newsom planned to deliver at a Wednesday morning news conference.

The president apparently heard about the scheduled developments and published a tweet to express his dissatisfaction.

“Defying voters, the Governor of California will halt all death penalty executions of 737 stone cold killers,” Donald Trump wrote. “Friends and families of the always forgotten VICTIMS are not thrilled, and neither am I!”

There’s no shortage of angles to this, from the president claiming to speak for people he does not know to his dubious assumption that everyone on death row is necessarily guilty.

But the two words that jumped out at me as important were “defying voters.”

I have no idea whether Golden State voters support capital punishment in large numbers or not. Sure, the public helped create the existing policy, but that was more than four decades ago, and it’s likely attitudes have shifted.

There’s a case to be made, of course, that it doesn’t necessarily matter: when it comes to Americans killing other Americans, popularity contests need not be the determining factor.

But there’s a special irony to seeing Donald Trump, of all people, stress the importance of honoring the will of the voters. The president, who came in second in the popular vote, has pursued all kinds of regressive ideas – tax breaks for the wealthy, killing the Affordable Care Act, building a giant border wall, etc. – that were woefully unpopular.

Where was Trump’s concern about “defying voters” then? Indeed, in the wake of his emergency declaration that the public broadly rejects, where is that concern now?