Guest Opinion: Trump’s top priority is Trump
Donald Trump blends his personal interests with the public’s business at an extraordinary and disturbing level. After winning Michigan and other states in March, the GOP nominee made his victory celebration a bizarre infomercial to pitch Trump steaks, Trump water and Trump wines.
Forget decorum, or statesmanship. Trump is all about Trump.
Trump has now prioritized his brand above something much more foundational than etiquette: the rule of law. Trump resorted to race-baiting criticism of a federal judge overseeing two lawsuits against Trump University, and effectively suggested that Trump alone should get to decide who judges Trump.
The Republican nominee’s criticism of U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel is itself absurd. In Trump’s view, Curiel, who was born in Indiana to parents who came from Mexico in the 1920s, should be disqualified from the case because Trump proposes to build a wall on the Mexican border. On Sunday, Trump then doubled down on ethnic nationalism by casting doubt on the impartiality of Muslim judges.
The criticism explicitly suggests that Trump does not respect the separation of the executive and judicial branches. Curiel unsealed records embarrassing to Trump in the fraud lawsuits against Trump University, so Trump declares him “a hater of Donald Trump.”
If that is how a Trump presidency would work, the independence of the judiciary would be under constant attack. Criticizing the judiciary, or individual rulings, is a well-worn political attack. But Trump’s attack on Curiel crosses the line into an attack based on heritage, and he escalated it further by threatening to personally sue Curiel if he became president.
What would a Trump-appointed judiciary look like? Would a Trump presidency require prospective Supreme Court judges to pledge loyalty oaths to the Trump brand? Would a federal judge risk attacks on their ethnicity or religion if they, say, ruled against a Trump administration Department of Justice?
Republican leaders coalescing behind Trump’s candidacy are rightfully denouncing the attacks on Curiel. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called them “inexcusable.” Former Presidential candidate John Kasich called them “flat-out wrong.”
They are no doubt tallying the political consequences of having a xenophobic candidate at the top of the ticket.
And, no doubt, they are able to read the tea leaves of history and see that this is how authoritarian regimes rise.