Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to guests during a campaign rally at St. Norbert College on March 30, 2016 in De Pere, Wis.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty

Trump stumbles on Supreme Court basics

Running for president is incredibly difficult, but like most tasks, it’s one of those things that people get better at over time. It’s a cliche, but practice makes perfect – the more a candidate spends time on the trail, fielding questions, talking about their priorities, learning details about a broad range of issues, etc., the more they learn how to be good at the task at hand.
At least, that’s usually how it works.
Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum posed a question yesterday that’s quite relevant: “I know that mocking Trump for his policy ignorance is sort of boring. I mean, what else is new? But is it possible that he’s actually getting dumber over time?”
Kevin was making a point about something Trump said on Tuesday, but the Republican’s comments yesterday about the Supreme Court also bolster the thesis. Politico noted, for example, Trump’s plan for the next high-court justice.
“Well, I’d probably appoint people that would look very seriously at her email disaster because it’s a criminal activity, and I would appoint people that would look very seriously at that to start off with,” Trump said in a phone interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Regardless of whether or not you consider Clinton’s email server management important, Trump’s rhetoric was nonsense. Supreme Court justices are not responsible for evaluating controversies surrounding politicians. It’s just not in their job description – it’s not how the court works. Trump seems to believe jurists on the nation’s highest court play some kind of prosecutorial role, which is a failure of Civics 101.
But to the broader point, it’s important to realize that Trump’s rhetoric about the Supreme Court used to be smarter.
At a debate last month, for example, Trump was asked about the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, and the Republican talked about who he’d nominate if given the opportunity. “We could have a Diane Sykes or a Bill Pryor, we have some fantastic people,” he said.
Sure, it was a memorized answer, but so what? It was a coherent memorized answer. Sykes and Pryor are right-wing, appeals court judges appointed by the Bush/Cheney administration., and if there were a GOP president right now, these are the kind of folks we’d expect him or her to consider for a Supreme Court vacancy. Trump’s debate answer at least made sense.
But in the weeks that followed, his approach has devolved. Earlier this month, Trump moved away from his perfectly coherent answer to the Supreme Court question and said he’d leave it to the “Heritage Foundation and others” to help him come up with a short list.
As of yesterday, he’s been reduced to looking for a justice who’ll go after Hillary Clinton.
Is Trump somehow getting worse at this, or is he pretending to be foolish because he thinks that’s what it takes to impress Republican primary voters?