The census citizenship question issue was all but dead. The Supreme Court ruled that the administration's rationale for the question was "contrived" and remanded the matter to a lower court, giving the administration virtually no time to litigate the matter before the 2020 Census needs to begin in October. The Justice Department told a federal judge they were ready to throw in the towel.
Then, from out of the blue, President Donald Trump tweeted that it was "fake news" that the administration was no longer pushing for a citizenship question — and the DOJ was forced to backtrack and say they were exploring ways of still including the question.
According to an analysis by the Washington Post, this turn of events can be explained very simply: because Trump hates to lose, and his only objective is appeasing his far-right base.
"This is a president who always thinks theatrically — he doesn't think strategically," said Tim O'Brien, a Trump biographer. "The second any issue gets perceived or portrayed as 'Trump lost,' is almost a guarantor that he's going to change course pretty quickly."
This has happened before on many occasions — perhaps most notably, when Trump was preparing to concede his border wall in a government spending deal, only to change his mind, block congressional funding and cause the longest government shutdown in political history because right-wing pundits blasted him as weak. Later, when he finally gave up and reopened the government, only for the same pundits to blast him again, he declared a national emergency at the border and unilaterally diverted funding from military projects.
Yet for all of Trump's determination not to lose, he has lost — many times. His push to block funding for sanctuary cities was smacked down in federal court. He also lost his efforts to block Democrats from obtaining his financial records.
But Trump kept fighting on these issues long after it became obvious that he stood no chance of prevailing, because it bolstered his base, and his ego. He is likely to do the same with the census.