So apparently last week, while my attention was directed elsewhere, Donald Trump attempted to attract the support of conservatives by promising to choose all of his Supreme Court appointments from a short list of candidates who he believes conservatives will find appealing.
Regardless of what you think of those individual candidates, there is absolutely no reason this gambit should garner support from conservatives for the simple reasont that the promise is not enforceable. This would be a problem with any politician, but particularly with Trump, who has never felt any qualms (or even, as far as I can see, any embarrassment) about shifting his positions 180 degrees from one day to the next.
But there’s a way to fix that problem, and it’s available not just to Trump but to any politician with credibility issues. Let him issue a list of specific promises (such as “All of my Supreme Court appointments will come from this list”) and then put the bulk of his personal wealth in an escrow account, to be returned to him if he loses the election or if he serves and keeps his promises — and to be paid to someone else if he’s elected and breaks those promises. The named beneficiary could be, for example, the U.S. Treasury, or — if the candidate is particularly concerned about attracting the votes of traditional Republicans — the Republican National Committee.
It would take a few clever lawyers to write the accompanying legal documents, but if there’s one thing Donald Trump’s got in abundance, it’s clever lawyers. In order to be effective, the documents would, of course, have to be made available for other lawyers (and bloggers!) to scrutinize.
One could argue that even when politicians are sincere in their promise-making, it’s still good to leave them some wiggle room. The answer to that is that wiggle-room, like pretty much anything else, is good in some ways and bad in others, and while the bad sometimes outweighs the good, the good also sometimes outweighs the bad.
Currently, Mr. Trump — along with every other candidate — is maintaining wiggle-room around every single promise he’s made, in the sense that none of them consists of anything more than words. By picking a few key issues and putting his personal wealth on the line — and challenging his opponents to do the same — Mr. Trump might, not for the first time, change American politics. He might even have the novel experience of changing it for the better.