President Donald Trump wants you to believe there’s a “National Security crisis” on the southern border. During his Rose Garden press conference last Friday, Trump justified shutting down the government over his desired border wall by saying, “This is national security we’re talking about — we’re not talking about games.”
But hours ahead of his primetime Oval Office address about the situation at the border and his wall, Trump’s campaign is also using the speech to try to raise $500,000 in a single day.
“Your safety is not a political game or negotiating tactic,” an email blast sent to potential donors says. “Please make a special contribution of $5 by 9 PM EST to our Official Secure the Border Fund to have your name sent to me after my speech.”
The fundraising email was shared on Twitter without any added commentary by George Conway, the husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, who has emerged as a prominent critic of the president.
But if Trump really doesn’t think the shutdown is a “game,” then it’s an odd look for him to be fundraising off it.
Trump undercuts his own messaging
The email blast comes amid reporting from the Wall Street Journal that Trump is still trying to decide whether to declare a national emergency to try to fund a border wall without Congress — an uncertainty belying the idea that he’s responding to a real crisis.
In recent days, the Trump administration has used misleading talking points to try to make a case for such a declaration. On Monday night, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen posted a Twitter thread in which she suggested that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) encountering six immigrants in the “Terrorist Screening Database” at ports of entry along the southern border over a six-month stretch constitutes a grave threat, because “all Americans would agree that one terrorist reaching our borders is one too many.”
But over that same time frame, CBP encountered 91 people from the database along the northern border, where the Trump administration has no interest in building a wall.
Trump’s fundraising blast alludes to the problems administration officials are having making the case. The email cites three “facts” that supposedly embody the “crisis” — “Drugs are poisoning our loved ones,” “MS-13 gang members are threatening our safety,” and “Illegal criminals are flooding our nation.”
Each of these is misleading. Most of the drugs that come into the US via the southern border are brought through ports of entry, and a border wall would do nothing to stop that from happening. Trump regularly traffics in gore about MS-13 to associate all immigrants with crime, but undocumented immigrants actually commit crimes at lower rates than native-born citizens. And though Trump wants people to believe that “illegal criminals are flooding our nation,” the most recent data indicates that the number of undocumented immigrants residing in the US has gradually declined since about 2006.
But while an emergency declaration wouldn’t address any real crisis, it would provide Trump with a way to reopen the government without losing face by having to abandon his campaign promise of building the wall — even if he’ll never be able to follow through on his vow that Mexico will pay for it.