Trump's Brand is Crisis
President Donald Trump held his first address from the Oval Office shortly into the new year as the government shutdown continues. The current shutdown is the longest in American history with no end in sight as both sides have dug in their heels. Democrats argue that Trump is manufacturing a crisis and needlessly shutting down the government—and one can clearly see why.
Even though the Trump Administration has been blessed with the lack of true Congressional oversight that occurs with a united government, the current situation is the third partial shutdown of the administration. However, shutting down the government has been just one way that Trump has “manufactured crisis” for perceived or at least attempted political gain. Candidate Trump shocked the Republican establishment when he first announced his bid for the Republican nomination when he referred to Mexican immigrants as people who are “rapists, bringing drugs, and bringing crime.” Even Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) who has become one of Trump’s current closet allies in the Senate denounced candidate Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and Trump himself as a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.” Obviously much has changed since 2015, Donald Trump was elected President and Senator Graham as well as much of the Republican Party have fallen lock-step with the President.
What has not changed since 2015 has been Trump’s use of fear to get his base to the polls or politically active in times of need for the White House. With little over a week remaining until the 2018 midterm elections, the American media was flooded with reports of the Migrant Caravan from Central America. Images of tired women and children warmed the hearts of many, but hardened others. President Trump took little to no time to yet again paint an image of fear about migrants into this county, increasing calls for a border wall. Both prior to and shortly after the President’s speech on January 8th, Trump’s campaign team sent fundraising emails for individuals to donate to the “Official Secure the Border Fund.” President Trump’s email stated, “We need to raise $500,000 in ONE DAY. I want to know who stood with me when it mattered most so I’ve asked my team to send me a list of EVERY AMERICAN PATRIOT who donates to the Official Secure the Border Fund;” however, it is unclear if such a fund truly exists due to the donations being sent through the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a joint fundraising committee for the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee. Trump’s speech largely focused on his immigration policy demands and a litany of immigrant crimes rather than addressing the implications of a partially shut down government.
Debate over the wall reached a standoff between Congress and the President. The President walked back his demand for a literal concrete wall in recent weeks in favor of steel slats and increased fencing. That proposal was of course constantly subject to the sudden revision of the President’s twitter account, as he argued that details about the wall are “just words.”
While Congress and the President continued to go back-and-forth, more than 800,000 federal workers and contractors were either furloughed or working without pay. Support for the shutdown appeared to be waning as the effects of the shutdown became more apparent. National parks begged to fully close to the public if they were not already, food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program were only guaranteed though February, workers whom were already struggling are facing the realities of missed checks, and state economies were hit hard where federal workers and contractors are a sizable share of the population. North Alabama, conservative bedrock built on federal spending in Huntsville and the Redstone Arsenal, felt a strong pinch with nearly 38,000 of the city’s 148,000 inhabitants working for the federal government.
Two reports from the New York Times indicate that even the President’s staunchest supporters gave way. One article noted an electronics company in Michigan, which is “mulling the possibility of moving its production to Mexico to escape the tariffs that President Trump has put on imported components.” The Times quoted the company’s chairman, Pat LeBlanc, a Trump voter who now believes the president’s policy will slice his profits in half. “I just feel so betrayed,” he said. “If we fail because the company is being harmed by the government, that just makes me sick.” Another article shared the story of a Jackson County, FL family already under stress due to lack of FEMA support after hurricane Michael. The shutdown on top of the hurricane has caused Ms. Minton to rethink a lot of things. “I voted for him, and he’s the one who’s doing this,” she said of Mr. Trump. “I thought he was going to do good things. He’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting.”
Trump is beginning to harm his own voters the most as his crisis tactics may be starting to become less effective, but the President knows little else on how to persuade the American public to support his policy initiatives. On January 9th, the President threatened to pull FEMA wildfire relief funds from fire-stricken California if the state doesn’t “get their act together” on forest management. “Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forrest fires that, with proper Forrest Management, would never happen,” Trump wrote in an early morning tweet. “Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money. It is a disgraceful situation in lives & money!” It is unclear why the President would threaten to harm drought stricken areas of the country even more, but it is clear that Trump’s political brand is crisis.