It’s a strange situation because Trump is constantly maligning the network for their “unfair coverage” of him or, more disturbingly, his bastardization of the term “fake news.”
Yet, Trump continues to send people from his administration on to the network, and now it is more important than ever since the government shutdown approached nearly 40 days (the longest ever by far).
Usually when those from Trump’s orbit make their rounds on the cable news networks, they are essentially doing damage control. Trump will say or tweet out something preposterous and then those who work for him will go on television in an attempt to explain why what he said is actually reasonable.
But in this case, Hassett on CNN was the one making the bold statements, and probably not one Trump would have liked. When asked about first quarter GDP growth, Hassett acknowledged there’s a chance the number could be zero. The interview immediately became one point, on top of many, for those against Trump’s government shutdown to rail against him even more.
Especially when you consider just a day earlier Trump tweeted, “The United States has a great economic story to tell. Number one in the World, by far!”
Reality was never Mr. Trump’s strong suit; in fact, his war on reality is part what propelled him to presidency. But many polls are now showing how the government shutdown is affecting Trump’s popularity, now dipping to new lows. At the core of Trump’s argument to keep the government shut down, is that Democrats are refusing to fund a more than five-billion-dollar project to build a wall at the U.S. southern border with Mexico.
Trump ran his campaign on the idea of “the wall.” It is something that has galvanized his supporters from the moment he announced his candidacy. Trump though, notoriously also promised that Mexico would pay for this wall. Again, while Trump has used bending reality to his advantage, there is lapse for him because he is stuck between an impossible promise to keep, as Mexico will not be paying for the wall, and the fact that he believes he needs to build the wall no matter what in order to keep his core supporters satisfied.
Trump’s base though, will not be enough to keep him afloat as 800,000 federal employees approach another Friday without a paycheck and countless others feel the effects of cutbacks to all sorts of government funded programs.
In an early December meeting at the White House with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Trump, again, infamously now, said “I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it,” as he pointed at Schumer. Yet it’s clear now that Trump eventually realized that this meeting and his statements about owning the shutdown was political suicide.
The Democrats never had any plans to give him funding for his wall. So, feeling scorned and treated unfairly, Trump of course went back on his word about not blaming the Democrats for the shutdown and has spent the last few weeks trying to deflect blame.
While Trump has made it all the way to the White House by forcing people to question what’s true and what’s not, many wonder about other hidden motives for Trump shutting down the government. The Special Counsel, led by Robert Mueller, from the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian collusion is expected finally release a report at some point this year.
Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort appears to be in extremely hot water as articles, as leaks and actual indictments relating to him seem to come out every week. So maybe the shutdown is all distraction, or diversion, from other revelations that Trump doesn’t want to be revealed.
Or maybe Trump has no idea what a shutdown is and how much of the country has been affected. Or both. Trump’s latest strategy to gather support for his wall is another slogan (rather similar to his original “build that wall” line that his supporters proudly chant), as he wrote in a tweet on January 23rd, “BUILD A WALL & CRIME WILL FALL! This is the new theme, for two years until the Wall is finished (under construction now), of the Republican Party. Use it and pray!”
It remains to be seen if this new rhyme will garner more support for his wall but according to a CBS poll released the same day, a whopping 71% of Americans do not think the wall is worth the government shutdown. So for Republicans, as Trump said, maybe their best strategy is to pray as public opinion sours on them as the government shutdown slogs on.
But like all things with Trump, he will attempt to bend reality. No matter when the government shutdown ends, with or without border wall funding, Trump will attempt to spin it as a win.
Adam Tismăneanu is a journalist based in Washington, D.C. with a bachelors degree in journalism and media studies from Northeastern University in Boston.