The longest pause: Ted Cruz passes when asked if Trump has the power to pardon himself

Hoo boy. This must be the first time in his life, all the way back to his pre-school years, that Cruz has passed on a question about the Constitution claiming insufficient knowledge of the topic.

That’s the sound of a man who’s up for reelection in a red state in a few months and knows that a “bad answer” might bring a presidential Twitter rebuke with unpredictable consequences for turnout. Interesting too that he didn’t try to deflect Byrd’s question by accusing her of a silly hypothetical that would never, ever occur in real life. With Trump, all things are possible. In fact, that’s probably the real reason Cruz choked. It’s not the Twitter rebuke he’s worried about, it’s the fact that this might happen and if he gives an opinion now he’ll be pinned down to that position. Say that the president can’t pardon himself and he’ll find himself accused of heresy by the right. Say that the president can pardon himself and God only knows what Trump might take that as license to do.

Sorry to have to hand an Obama alumnus a point at Cruz’s expense but there’s no earthly way Lovett is wrong about this:

In fact, after a little googling, Lovett found a piece authored by Cruz in 2014 titled, ah, “Obama Is Not a Monarch.” Needless to say, Lovett’s pals on the left often did defend Obama’s power to behave monarchically as president; it’s anyone’s guess what they’d have said about a self-pardon. Partisan positions on presidential power are as circumstantial as views on the filibuster are, after all. But Cruz is a “constitutional conservative,” a former solicitor general of Texas and a legit possibility for SCOTUS. He’s not your garden-variety Republican hack, or at least he’s not supposed to be. It’s unimaginable that he’d do anything but spit at the idea of Obama trying to let himself off the hook for a crime via some royal self-pardon prerogative.

Perhaps he’ll study up on the issue and let us know. In the meantime, it’s also undeniably true that Cruz’s reluctance to answer is all the proof you need that I was right in this post earlier. Anyone who says Republicans would scramble to impeach Trump if he pardoned himself is either in denial or an out-and-out liar.

Incidentally, if the power to self-pardon ever came before SCOTUS, I’d bet heavily that Trump would lose. John Roberts by all accounts cares a lot about the institutional legitimacy of the Court. That’s always been a theory for his infamous ObamaCare vote in 2012, that he worried that a 5-4 vote with the conservatives all on one side and the liberals all on the other would convince people that even the Supreme Court is just a rank partisan institution nowadays where every vote is predictable according to political bias. I think it’s possible that if you had presented the Supremes with a hypothetical about a presidential self-pardon a few years ago that you’d get five conservative votes for the strong-form Article II position, that the president can do anything he wants with pardons. As it is, though, having taken the moral measure of the current officeholder, there’s no way Roberts is going to let his legacy be that he handed Donald Trump a get-out-of-jail-free card. I don’t know if the vote would be 5-4 against a pardon or something more lopsided, but I do know that Roberts would strain hard, as chief justices have done before in cases of unusual gravity, to pull a unanimous Court together. Put it this way: The odds that Trump would lose 9-0 are better than the odds that he’d win by any margin.