In February 2015, Hugh Hewitt secured a promise from Donald Trump. Before even hearing the details, do you have a guess as to whether his promise was kept or broken?
This week, Hewitt is trying to persuade his fellow conservatives that, if elected, Trump will nominate originalists to the Supreme Court. The conservatives are skeptical.
To persuade them, Hewitt has published a column asserting that Trump will too nominate originalists, like the ones on a list Trump submitted under pressure from the conservative movement, citing a transcript from their most recent radio interview together. “There you have it,” Hewitt writes. “If Donald Trump departs from his list of future Supreme Court nominees, Donald Trump has authorized Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans to block that nominee and enforce the list.”
Now Ben and others can conjure up all sorts of hypotheticals wherein Trump backtracks or McConnell and the Senate GOP caves. But there is no way any additional proof can be brought forward on the subject. Clinging to objections that the Supreme Court argument has no weight now is in fact proof that “We can't trust him” was cover all along to avoid the discomfort of counting the cost of helping to defeat Trump and elect Clinton. There can be no more assurance to be given than has been given, and a lot has been given.
Put simply, conservatives have Trump’s repeated, emphatic promises.
What could go wrong?
Quite a bit, actually. Last week, in “Why Trusting Donald Trump on Judges Is Folly,” I set forth some of the powerful substantive and political incentives a victorious Trump would have to wriggle out of sticking to judges on that list, starting with the fact that very few Trump voters are doctrinaire originalists. My colleague David Frum and Ilya Somin of the Volokh Conspiracy have offered powerful arguments of their own.
Hewitt has no persuasive answers for those arguments. But he needn’t look to others to see the folly of his position. He need only look at his own past dealings with Trump.
In February 2015, as now, the law professor was interviewing the billionaire, who hadn’t quite officially declared his presidential candidacy, on his radio program, where Hewitt asked, “On the day you announce, how many years of tax returns will you release?”
“I will go over tax returns,” Trump replied, “and let me tell you, nobody knows the tax-returns world or business better than me. You have to understand, I’m a businessman, I work for myself. I have a phenomenal net worth, a lot of cash, and very little debt. Actually, I’m the only candidate in history who has submitted his financials the last time. And I didn’t run. I actually submitted my financials, because to be very honest, I’m very proud of my financials. My financials now are much better.”
Seeing that his question wasn’t quite answered, Hewitt said, “Would you release tax returns, though?”
Said Trump, “I would release tax returns. And I’d also explain to people that as a person looking to make money, I’m in the business of making money until I do this. And if I won, I would make money for our country. I would make so much money for our country that they wouldn’t have to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid.”
Then Trump started complaining about China and how hard it is to become a Mexican citizen. “I got it,” Hewitt said, “but I want to stay focused on the tax returns. How many years back?”
“The answer is I would do it,” Trump said. “I will tell you upfront that as a private person, I’m very proud of this, I want to pay as little taxes as I can as a private person.”
“Of course,” Hewitt said. “But how many years back would you go on the day you announce? Three? Five?”
“Oh, I don’t know, I actually have not even thought of that,” Trump said. “But I would certainly show tax returns if it was necessary.”
“A couple of years?” Hewitt said.
“Well, what have they been doing?” Trump asked. “They’ve really been doing one year … but I would certainly—I’m very proud of what I’ve done, I do pay tax, but I’m very proud of what I did. I will say this. You will see piles and piles and piles of paper stacked many feet into the air. Because the system is so complex that it is disgraceful.”
“I think two or three years would be great,” Hewitt said.
“Well, we’ll take a good, strong look at that, Hugh,” Trump said. “It’s not something I thought of, that I’ve given real thought to, but I have certainly no objection to showing tax returns.”
Yet as most politically interested Americans know, Trump has not released any tax returns. More broadly, Trump is a man who has broken his word again and again, not only to voters in this campaign, but to bygone wives and business partners; to the public, in false statements about his wealth; and to consumers, like the working-class people who signed up for Trump University to their subsequent chagrin.
In many instances, Trump has humiliated these people with his behavior.
Any observer who has studied Trump’s history should be able to see that his word is worth nothing; Hewitt should be able to see it better than most, having had personal experience of how little it means when Trump comes on your radio show and makes a promise about what he is or isn’t going to do at some unknown future date.
Here is what happened the last time that Hewitt tried to pressure Trump to make good on a promise:
Yet still, Hewitt believes!
“I trust you, by the way,” Hewitt told Trump last week.
Well, no one else should.
Like every over-credulous voter treating Trump’s words as if they foreclose the possibility of Trump doing the opposite, Hewitt is setting himself up for humiliation.