Tucked into President Trump’s Rose Garden remarks about his recently declared national emergency and amid descriptions of human-trafficking victims tied up in the back of border-crossing trucks, there was a warm and fuzzy moment — at least for the nation’s conservative pundits.
For Trump and select pontificators, the road to Friday’s speech had been a rocky one, with Trump facing criticism — even being called a wimp — for caving to Democrats over border wall funding.
Some have suggested that the entire partial government shutdown was a response to backlash from high-profile, right-wing voices who said Trump seemed weak in negotiating for a wall on the nation’s southern border.
So Trump took two minutes Friday to set the record straight about the nation’s conservative opinion leaders, telling reporters:
⋅ Conservative media voices don’t dictate or influence government policy, including his decision to declare a national emergency to build a border wall;
⋅ Conservative media voices are great.
He started with Fox News host Sean Hannity: “Sean Hannity has been a terrific, terrific supporter of what I do, not of me,” Trump began in an answer to a reporter’s question. “If I changed my views, he wouldn’t be with me.”
Then he moved on to radio host Rush Limbaugh, who he thinks is “a great guy.” “He’s a guy that can speak for three hours without a phone call,” Trump said. “Try doing that sometime. He’s a guy that’s got one of the biggest audiences in the history of the world. This guy is unbelievable. Try speaking for three hours without taking calls.”
Trump even had not-so-terrible words for conservative author Ann Coulter — the one who uttered the w-word after Trump couldn’t secure wall funding after the shutdown. Coulter was once one of Trump’s earliest and most vocal supporters. She anointed him “emperor god.” When he ran for president, she wrote the book “In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome.”
But her feelings toward Trump soured amid the wall debate. She accused him of capitulating to Democrats and said he didn’t fulfill his central campaign promise.
“He promised something for 18 months, and he lied about it,” Coulter told HBO host Bill Maher last month, not long after Trump signed a stopgap measure to temporarily reopen the government.
Speaking on the criticism, Trump told the Wall Street Journal that Coulter was “very hostile” and speculated that she was angry because he didn’t “return her phone call or something,” an assertion he repeated during Friday’s speech.
He stopped following her on Twitter in December after she said she wouldn’t support his reelection if he didn’t make progress on the border wall. As The Washington Post’s Eli Rosenberg wrote: “The small slight was a sign of the tension that swelled this week between the president and his far-right supporters after the White House signaled Trump would back away from his vow to shut down the government if funding was not secured for the border wall.”
On Friday, Trump dismissed her criticism but said it was more misunderstanding than animus.
“Ann Coulter, I don’t know her. I hardly know her,” he said. I haven’t spoken to her in way over a year. . . . Probably if I did speak to her, she’d be very nice; I just don’t have the time to speak to her.
“I haven’t spoken to her. I don’t follow her. . . . I think she’s fine, I just don’t speak to her.”
Michael Brice-Saddler contributed to this report.