On Thursday morning, President Donald Trump — while live-tweeting Lou Dobbs’s Fox Business show that aired the evening before — made an impassioned plea for people to stop referring to his proposed wall along the southern border as anything short of “a WALL!”
“Lets [sic] just call them WALLS from now on and stop playing political games! A WALL is a WALL!” the president wrote.
Lets just call them WALLS from now on and stop playing political games! A WALL is a WALL!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 31, 2019
The irony of Trump’s tweet is that nobody has played “political games” with the wall more than he has. During the past two months alone, Trump has variously tried to rebrand it as “steel slats,” “a great Steel Barrier,” and even “Peaches.”
If the goal of his rebranding efforts is to boost the wall’s popularity, he has failed. Two polls conducted following the partial government shutdown Trump instigated over the wall show a majority of voters still oppose building the wall. Support for Trump’s wall has consistently polled below 40 percent, even as it has become more popular with Republicans.
Nevertheless, Trump persists.
“They can name it Peaches”
When Trump launched his presidential bid nearly four years ago, he was clear as day about his intention to build a “wall” on the southern border and make Mexico pay for it. But things got more complicated as he tried to sell Congress on the idea of American taxpayers footing the bill for it, and then tried to justify his decision to shut down the federal government over it.
This month alone, Trump changed his mind a number of times about how best to talk about his wall. On January 10, he said, “we’ll call it a barrier instead of a wall.” The next day, he said, “whatever you want to call it is okay with me. They can name it whatever. They can name it Peaches. I don’t care what they name it. But we need money for that barrier.”
Trump was even more all over the place in December. On December 18, he said, “we are not building a Concrete Wall, we are building artistically designed steel slats.”
The Democrats, are saying loud and clear that they do not want to build a Concrete Wall – but we are not building a Concrete Wall, we are building artistically designed steel slats, so that you can easily see through it….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2018
Three days later, Trump’s description of the wall changed slightly to “Steel Slat Barrier.”
The next day, it changed again to “a great Steel Barrier or Wall.”
The crisis of illegal activity at our Southern Border is real and will not stop until we build a great Steel Barrier or Wall. Let work begin!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 22, 2018
In addition to constantly changing how he describes the wall, Trump hasn’t been consistent in his claims about whether construction of it is already underway. On December 27, he tweeted that “we desperately need Border Security and a Wall on the Southern Border,” but less than a week later he proclaimed that “Much of the Wall has already been fully renovated or built.”
On Thursday, he posted a tweet in which he simultaneously made a case for building the wall, but also claimed it’s “Being Built!”
More troops being sent to the Southern Border to stop the attempted Invasion of Illegals, through large Caravans, into our Country. We have stopped the previous Caravans, and we will stop these also. With a Wall it would be soooo much easier and less expensive. Being Built!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 31, 2019
Trump’s claim is misleading. While some border barriers have been renovated under his watch, Congress has not appropriated a single dollar for construction of his border wall.
Confused? So is the White House.
While Trump has now reverted to calling his wall a wall, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway chastised a reporter last week for doing the same.
As Vox’s Jane Coasten detailed on January 23:
In a confusing discussion with CNN reporter Abby Phillip, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway asked why Phillip and recent CBS polls on the ongoing government shutdown kept referring to a “wall” rather than “steel slat barriers.” After nearly four years of demanding a border wall even at the cost of an unpopular government shutdown, the Trump administration now appears to wish to avoid the word “wall” at all costs.
“I’m asking why you and the polling questions, respectfully, are still saying ‘wall’ when the president said you can call it whatever you want,” Conway said.
When Phillip responded that President Trump had referred to the wall on Twitter Wednesday morning — tweeting, “BUILD A WALL & CRIME WILL FALL” — Conway reiterated her statement: “The president has said many times … publicly call it what you want to call it but let’s secure our border.”
In cable news interviews, Conway has accused Democrats of making the wall a “four-letter word.” But it’s a word her boss is using again now too.
One thing is clear: Trump is flailing
Trump’s shifting sales pitch hasn’t been persuasive with voters or Congress. A number of polls conducted during the latter stages of the shutdown showed Trump’s disapproval rating hitting new highs, and it appears the White House was making things up when it claimed “Dozens of rank-and-file Democrats” have reached out to the administration and signaled they want to build the wall.
But Trump remains unwilling to move on. During a media availability on Thursday, he said he won’t support any border security deal that doesn’t include funding for a border wall, and added that he’s “not concerned” about legal challenges he would face if he declares a national emergency in the hope of bypassing Congress to build the wall while avoiding another government shutdown.
That route is also unpopular. According to a Politico/Morning Consult poll released Thursday, 51 percent of voters oppose Trump declaring an emergency, compared to 38 percent who support it.