I am typing these words approximately an hour before the president is set to address the nation from the Oval Office about his demand for Congress to fund a wall along the Mexican border, and before Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offer their response. I just want to lay out the politics of the current moment before assessing, as quickly as possible, the effect of Trump’s actual speech.
FACT 1: Trump is losing the politics of the shutdown. This is not my opinion; every piece of data available confirms it. The polling on this question has never been favorable to Trump’s position and has shifted against him in the past week. Reuters’s Chris Kahn reports, “51 percent of adults believe Trump ‘deserves most of the blame’ for the shutdown, which entered its 18th day on Tuesday. That is up 4 percentage points from a similar poll that ran from Dec. 21 to 25. Another 32 percent blame congressional Democrats for the shutdown and 7 percent blame congressional Republicans, according to the poll. Those percentages are mostly unchanged from the previous poll.”
The winds of Congress are also blowing against the president. On Monday, Politico’s John Bresnahan and Sarah Ferris reported that, “Several dozen House Republicans might cross the aisle this week to vote for Democratic bills to reopen shuttered parts of the federal government” and that “White House officials and Republican congressional leaders worry that GOP support for the shutdown is eroding, weakening President Donald Trump’s hand.” Tuesday, Politico’s James Arkin reported that multiple GOP senators facing reelection in 2020 have called for the debate about the wall to be put aside to fund the government. And after that story went to bed, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) called for the government to be funded, stating “We don’t need to hold up these six other departments at the same time that we are resolving these very important security issues.” Meanwhile, Democrats have not budged.
Want more evidence that Trump is losing on the politics? The very fact that he’s making this address is all the proof you need. CNN’s Jeremy Diamond reports that “some of the president’s advisers have told him that simply tweeting and speaking off-the-cuff wouldn’t alone suffice in convincing Americans a border wall is necessary.” This is pretty amusing when you think about it, since Politico’s Eliana Johnson reports that “Trump has griped to associates that he hasn’t seen enough administration officials on the airwaves defending him during the shutdown fight, according to three people close to the president.” In other words, Trump’s aides believe that Trump has to do more to change the political dynamic, and Trump thinks his aides need to do more. So, yeah, he’s losing this political fight.
FACT 2: Trump’s credibility on this issue is super-low. As I type this, my Post colleagues Salvador Rizzo, Glenn Kessler and Meg Kelly have written a pre-fact check that includes the line, “By any available measure, there is no new crisis at the border.” Economist Justin Wolfers tweeted a betting line on how many lies Trump would tell in his speech (three and a half).
Or consider the following piece of video evidence. First, Vice President Pence basically confirms that Trump lied when he said former presidents had told him they had wanted to build a wall.
And Jake Tapper’s opening to his CNN show is the cherry on this lying sundae:
FACT 3: Trump has limited rhetorical moves. Vox’s Dara Lind has been covering this issue, and as she noted this evening before the speech, “Donald Trump’s very favorite rhetorical mode is that immigrants are coming across the border to kill you.” It’s exaggerated and wrong, and if that is his only line, then it hardly seems likely to persuade anyone new to the righteousness of his cause. This meshes with what CNN’s Diamond reported: “Some of Trump’s aides view his ‘build the wall’ slogan as no longer having the same impact it once did during the campaign because Trump has used it so frequently.”
So, the question is whether Trump will be able to change any of these three dynamics with his speech this evening. Can he reverse the political tide? Can he offer credible information? Can he provide anything new in his rhetoric? Let’s find out!
ONE HOUR LATER: Nope. As per usual, the president’s delivery when reading from a prepared text was dreadful. The speech itself had no style or organizational structure. He simultaneously called for compromise while saying border security was a question of right or wrong. Rhetorically, the speech was inert. As for Trump’s credibility, as I type this, he is getting vigorously fact-checked.
On the politics, Trump’s only move was to call for citizens to call their member of Congress. If that happens in large numbers, maybe the dynamic will shift. Otherwise, Trump’s speech changed nothing.