Winning in politics is as much about beating expectations as anything else. Democrats' loss in the special election in a conservative Georgia district wasn't particularly devastating in and of itself, but the fact that they really went for it made it look like a massive failure, with nothing but doom and gloom ahead.
With that in mind, I present the White House's gloating after the Supreme Court partially reinstated its travel ban on Monday.
this one is delicious though. pic.twitter.com/rhOkZA0HBg
— Kellyanne Conway (@KellyannePolls) June 26, 2017
“It’s a huge win for the president and the executive order,” Trump's lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said on Fox Business Network shortly after the ruling.
Some conservative writers also hailed this as a win for Trump. David French of the (not exactly Trump-friendly) National Review wrote: “Victory for Trump: SCOTUS Restores Vast Majority of Travel Ban.”
This is what you might call the soft bigotry of low expectations. Yes, the Supreme Court allowed for part of the White House's travel ban to go into effect after some judges had put the whole thing on hold. But if this is what passes for a big Trump win, it's going to be a long four years for him.
For a few reasons:
1) This wouldn't really be seen as a “win” unless other judges hadn't halted the ban in the first place. If the lower courts had upheld the ban and this had been appealed to the Supreme Court by the other side, the narrative today would be that the Supreme Court just put part of Trump's travel ban on hold. It's also not altogether surprising that the more left-leaning 9th Circuit Court of Appeals would go further in halting the ban than the Supreme Court would. And the sum total is still that part of Trump's ban remains blocked, with no ruling on the overall constitutionality and the possibility that it gets partially struck down for good.
2) We are simply talking about whether Trump overstepped his constitutional bounds with the travel ban executive order — a very low bar — and not whether the broader policy is successful or popular. And in fact, a recent poll showed Americans oppose the ban 52-43.
3) The degree to which the ban is being reinstated is in the eye of the beholder. Basically, the court says the ban “may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.” This is who actually sued over the ban in the first place, and they remain exempt from it, for now.
4) This is the revised, scaled-back version of Trump's initial travel ban, which was also halted by the courts. And just a few weeks ago, Trump didn't seem to be a big fan of Version 2.0, tweeting, “The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.” We are now to believe that a ban Trump suggested was inadequate and “watered down” is some big victory for his agenda?
The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2017
5) As The Fix's Amber Phillips notes, the whole purpose of the ban is now in doubt. The White House initially pitched this as temporary travel ban needed to address an urgent national security concern while it developed more foolproof vetting procedures. It said it needed 90 days to do that (120 days for refugees); it's now been 150 days since the first attempt at a travel ban and 102 since the second (with no attacks by immigrants or refugees), but apparently the ban is still necessary? Even in their ruling, the judges seemed to allude to the idea that their input might be moot because that window had passed. Here's what the justices wrote:
In addition to the issues identified in the petitions, the parties are directed to address the following question: “Whether the challenges to §2(c) became moot on June 14, 2017.”
Monday's ruling is a win for Trump only insofar as it wasn't another big setback — something he's become accustomed to both legislatively and in the courts. But this is a temporary ruling that is still blocking part of a signature executive order that Trump apparently isn't a huge fan of in the first place.
For a president who said we'd grow tired of winning with him, to claim this as a big victory is pretty telling.