Report: Trump told reporters yesterday that he thought his primetime speech would be a waste of time

Once again his political instincts prove accurate. But I’m glad he gave the speech anyway. We got some sweet-ass Pelosi/Schumer memes out of it.

Here’s the Times reporting on POTUS’s pre-speech lunch with TV hosts yesterday. Attendees weren’t allowed to discuss publicly what Trump said to them, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t gossip to their colleagues in the media:

Yet privately, Mr. Trump dismissed his own new strategy as pointless. In an off-the-record lunch with television anchors hours before the address, he made clear in blunt terms that he was not inclined to give the speech or go to Texas, but was talked into it by advisers, according to two people briefed on the discussion who asked not to be identified sharing details.

“It’s not going to change a damn thing, but I’m still doing it,” Mr. Trump said of the border visit, according to one of the people, who was in the room. The trip was merely a photo opportunity, he said. “But,” he added, gesturing at his communications aides Bill Shine, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway, “these people behind you say it’s worth it.”

Jonathan Swan of Axios heard the same thing from his sources. Which makes me wonder: What does Trump believe is the endgame here? Conway, Sanders, and Shine urged him to do the speech and visit the border because they recognized that the shutdown standoff is all about POTUS communicating his resolve to his base. It’ll have to end soon and it’ll do so without him getting $5 billion for the wall but he can protect his right flank by showing MAGA Nation that he did everything he could to prevail. An Oval Office address and border visit to sell the public on the need for a wall are basic elements of that. If he thinks the messaging here is a waste of time, why did he force the shutdown in the first place?

Another source tells Swan that he thinks Trump declaring a national emergency remains the most probable outcome, which is true. And it’ll likely happen soon as the list of people damaged by the cutoff of federal funds continues to grow, with the media paying close attention. The polling is beginning to turn more sour too, with Reuters and Morning Consult each finding this week that the share of the public that says Trump bears most of the blame for the shutdown has risen by four points since late December. Ideally last night’s speech will have changed that dynamic but Trump is likely right that it won’t matter. (If anything, it might serve to make him even more the “face of the shutdown” in the public’s eyes.) The government will need to re-open soon to stop these trends and the only way that happens without the president losing face is if he uses an executive decree to seize funds from the Pentagon to begin construction.

Although in that case, why didn’t POTUS use last night’s address to set the stage by explaining what’s deteriorated at the border lately? The public is used to thinking of the border in crisis terms; in fact, a plurality of voters (42 percent) interviewed by Morning Consult said they believe the border’s in “crisis” right now with another 37 percent saying the border’s a “problem,” an auspicious sign for Trump. But to justify a looming declaration of emergency, you’d think he would have pointed to some recent downturn in security justifying extraordinary action. He didn’t, notes Philip Klein:

He’s been president for nearly two years, and up until last week, Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress. At any point during that two years, Republicans could have passed a bill to fund the border wall, and he could have gotten at least $5.6 billion.

Republicans were ready to use the reconciliation process, allowing the Senate to pass legislation with a simple majority, to repeal and replace Obamacare. They successfully used the procedure to pass a massive tax cut. They certainly could have found a way to use it to put some money into building a border wall had Trump actually fought for it earlier in his administration.

Was the border not a national emergency until December? Or was it just inconvenient to Mitch McConnell for Trump to lean on him for wall funding before then?

A Trump-supporting Twitter pal assured me this morning that he certainly won’t vote for POTUS again in 2020 if he ends up capitulating here. Oh please. Step back and view this with a time horizon of longer than a week. Unless the next Democratic nominee is Joe Biden, whoever ends up facing Trump will assuredly be further left than Hillary Clinton, the inspiration for the supposed “Flight 93 election” two years ago. Even Biden will end up running to Clinton’s left to keep grumpy progressives satisfied and willing to turn out. We’ll spend six months next year hearing every hour that Democrats have never been more radical and that their victory really, truly would be the irreversible end of America this time. If Kamala Harris is three points ahead of Trump a week out from Election Day, MAGA-ites will be at the polling place with sleeping bags the night before it opens so that they can be the first to vote for him. Disappointment when he caves is understandable but let’s avoid silly insincere ultimatums.

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