Since first threatening a government shutdown last month in his battle with Congress over border wall funding, President Donald Trump has leaned heavily on Twitter to rally support among his followers.
So far, the strategy seems to be working. That, however, doesn’t bode well for a quick resolution to the standoff.
With a partial government shutdown now in its third week, the White House signaled on Sunday that talks to reopen the federal government could produce a deal that sees Trump moving away from his demand that a proposed barrier along the U.S. border with Mexico be a concrete wall.
The possible concession, which comes days after Trump had floated a barrier of steel rather than a concrete wall, came even as a White House official warned that the shutdown, could “drag on a lot longer.” The pledge to build a barrier has made the president a captive of a central campaign promise, which on Saturday The New York Times reported began in 2014 as a memory trick to help Trump remember his hard-line on immigration.
Speaking to reporters outside the White House on Sunday, Trump repeated his threat that if he is unhappy with negotiations in a few days, he could declare a national emergency and use the military to construct a wall, circumventing Congress.
The standoff has left about 800,000 federal employees are furloughed or working without pay. The House, now led by Democrats, passed legislation Thursday night to fund the agencies that have been caught in the border wall crossfire. But could still veto the measure even if the Senate acts to approve it.
Trump said on Sunday that he should not have to lower his demand for $5.6 billion in border security funding.
As the standoff drags on, Trump has tried to take maximum advantage of the political upheaval to rally support from his followers for his signature 2016 campaign issue. Based on a CNBC review of his wall-related tweets, the effort is paying off.
As the Dec. 22 shutdown loomed, Trump linked President Barack Obama’s policy toward Iran with the ongoing battle over border security in a tweet.
That post generated more than 60,000 retweets, one of the president’s biggest wall-related tweets, according to an analysis of his feed by CNBC. He then topped it with a Dec. 30 tweet that generated nearly a quarter million favorites.
The subject of a border wall has been a staple of the president’s Twitter feed for the last three years. Begun in earnest in the months before he declared his presidential ambitions in June 2015, the pace picked up after his election in November 2016. The number of his followers who support his sentiments with retweets have risen accordingly.
While the president’s focus on the subject intensified in 2018, The Times reported that talk of the wall began nearly 5 years ago, as Trump’s advisers sought ways to help the candidate focus on immigration. “How do we get him to continue to talk about immigration?” Sam Nunberg, a Trump political advisers, told Roger J. Stone Jr., another adviser, according to the report.
“We’re going to get him to talk about he’s going to build a wall,” The Times added. The reference to a wall has prevailed as one of Trump’s most popular stump lines among his base.
In fact, Trump has been tweeting about building a wall for nearly a decade. Back in May, 2009, he first declared that he’d “rather build walls than cling to them.” Then, in March 2013, the president briefly reversed course on his wall obsession, citing a quote widely attributed to Sir Isaac Newton: “We build too many walls and not enough bridges.”
Yet during the last 18 months, his stumping for the project has been a reliable traffic generator among his Twitter followers. In June, some 172,000 of his followers liked his Tweeted rallying cry: “If you don’t have Borders you don’t have a Country!”
That placed it among the Top 20 of the more than 3,000 tweets sent by the president last year alone.
It remains to be seen how much longer the president will continue to mine the border wall issue for political gold among his followers. Trump said Friday he has considered using emergency powers to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a move that would almost certainly draw legal challenges.
“Yes, I have,” Trump told a reporter who asked if he had weighed using those powers. “I could do it if I wanted.”
Asked whether he needed congressional approval, Trump said, “No, we could call it national emergency.”
–Reuters contributed to this story.