The thread connecting Trump's troubles: his post-policy problem

Many of the White House's latest failures are the result of its indifference to the substance of governing.
Image: President Trump Holds Meeting On Opportunity Zones
President Donald Trump listens during a meeting on opportunity zones in the Cabinet Room of the White House on May 18, 2020.Doug Mills / Pool/Bloomberg via Getty Images file
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By Steve Benen

Donald Trump is not having a great week. If asked, the president would likely blame his latest difficulties on nefarious forces, who refuse to appreciate how awesome his awesomeness is, conspiring against him.

There's a more sensible -- and more grounded -- explanation for the White House's latest troubles.

For example, Trump and his team suffered a significant legal defeat yesterday, when the Supreme Court rejected the president's effort to end DACA legal protections for Dreamers. The president suspected his loss was the result of justices not liking him, but take a look at the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts:

"We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies.... We address only whether the [Department of Homeland Security] complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action. Here the agency failed to consider the conspicuous issues of whether to retain forbearance and what if anything to do about the hardship to DACA recipients. That dual failure raises doubts about whether the agency appreciated the scope of its discretion or exercised that discretion in a reasonable manner."

In other words, the Trump administration lost its case because it failed to govern properly. Or as law professor Steve Vladeck put it yesterday, "It's not that Chief Justice Roberts is a closet progressive. He's not. It's that the Trump administration is really bad at administrative law." Paul Herzog added last night, "As an immigration lawyer, it warms my heart to know the administration's effort to screw a bunch of immigrants was foiled because it didn't do the paperwork correctly."

For those on the right who were disappointed with yesterday's outcome, blaming the Supreme Court makes less sense than blaming the Trump administration's failure to effectively and responsibly execute its own policy.

In fact, many of the White House's recent failures are the result of its indifference to the substance of governing.

Earlier this week, North Korea literally blew up a diplomatic office, in part because Trump launched a risky gambit for public-relations purposes, failed to do his due diligence, never bothered to formulate a specific plan or policy, and sat helpless as his half-hearted effort failed.

Soon after, the political world was confronted with revelations from John Bolton's new book, in which the former White House national security advisor describes the president as, among other things, a man who doesn't care about governing, doesn't know how government works, and prioritizes politics over policy.

Meanwhile, Trump's plan to hold a risky campaign rally in Tulsa is becoming increasingly controversial in ways his political operation may not have anticipated. Those who take governing seriously care about data, evidence, and expertise -- and in this case, the coronavirus data out of Oklahoma is awful and getting worse; the evidence points to an enclosed venue where the virus can spread easily and quickly, and the experts are telling anyone who'll listen that this is a bad idea.

But because Trump and his allies are no longer members of a governing party, and have instead become leaders of a post-policy party, these developments are sadly predictable.

Have I mentioned that my new book is about this very subject?