Will Trump's National Emergency Declaration Help Him In 2020? David Greene talks to Jonah Goldberg, senior editor at National Review, about a poll finding over 60 percent of Americans disapprove of President Trump declaring an emergency at the southern border.
NPR logo

Will Trump's National Emergency Declaration Help Him In 2020?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/695874062/695874063" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Will Trump's National Emergency Declaration Help Him In 2020?

Will Trump's National Emergency Declaration Help Him In 2020?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/695874062/695874063" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Well, as President Trump predicted, he is getting sued. Sixteen states are arguing that he can't redirect military and other spending to build a border wall without congressional approval. The president is trying this by declaring a national emergency at the border, but he is entering a legal battle here without clear support from the American people. A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finds a majority of Americans disapprove of the president's emergency declaration. Six in 10 Americans actually don't think there is any emergency. That said, the president's political base is behind him overwhelmingly. Let's turn to conservative writer Jonah Goldberg, who's senior editor at National Review and frequently comes on our program.

Welcome back, Jonah.

JONAH GOLDBERG: Hey. It's always great to be here.

GREENE: Well, it's always great to have you. So does President Trump care that a majority of Americans don't think there's an emergency?

GOLDBERG: Spelunking too deep into Donald Trump's cranium may not be the greatest (laughter) use of my time.

GREENE: OK.

GOLDBERG: But I think...

GREENE: Does it matter - let me rephrase.

GOLDBERG: Yeah.

GREENE: Does it matter to him that a lot of Americans are not with him here?

GOLDBERG: It clearly doesn't matter. He's been underwater - you know, the guy's never broken 50 in the approval ratings in any polls. It hasn't stopped him from doing - from going with his gut on all sorts of things. And I think that on this, this is one of these things where he - you know, he, basically, has always thought that his base are the only voters who truly matter, you know, the ones he refers to as my people. And he is convinced that - and it's been reported that he thinks this is his no new taxes pledge and that he cannot go back on the wall. And anything he does to get the wall is self-justifying.

And this also - just to be blunt and cynical about it, this was a smart political move in the sense that the headlines would've been Trump gets taken to the cleaners in the budget deal that he signed to - you know, he lost that entire exchange for two months of wasted time. He lost the government shutdown fight. And he came out worse the other end with the budget deal. And those headlines...

GREENE: Yeah.

GOLDBERG: ...Were completely erased by the fact that...

GREENE: Changed the narrative.

GOLDBERG: ...He - yeah, because he changed narrative.

GREENE: Well, let's talk through, I mean, whether or not he needs the base. I mean, the wall was a centerpiece of his 2016 campaign. He won that election. But you could argue - right - that he might have hurt congressional Republicans when he focused on the wall ahead of the midterms. So is there a path here where this is a winning argument, even though it only retains his base and most other Americans don't - aren't with him here?

GOLDBERG: I don't think so. I've never thought so. I think it has been bizarre to me that the guy who ran as - I alone can fix it. And I'm going to make deals. And I'm going to work with Democrats - that he is - he's the first president in modern memory who has governed as if he only cares about his base. Normally, presidents at least pretend to care about being president for the whole country. And normally, presidents try to expand their coalition that got them elected once they get into office. He's never pursued that strategy. It's been a base strategy in office the entire time. I don't see how it helps him for re-election, unless there's some third-party candidate. But that is the gamble that they made. They think that if they can churn up the intensity, it will work for him. And I think it's misguided, but that's - it seems apparent that that's either the strategy or that Donald Trump doesn't know how to behave any other way.

GREENE: I want to highlight one other finding in our new poll. Eighty-four percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Trump supporters think there is a national emergency at the border. Democrats and independents don't agree with that. I mean, I know these are polarized times. I'm sure you know these are polarized times. But how can people's perceptions on an issue like this be that vastly different?

GOLDBERG: Yeah. I think you can find some very similar findings about things like climate change and all sorts of stuff. There's an enormous amount of motivated reasoning going on there. And for a lot of voters, this was not - there really isn't an emergency at the border. There was a political emergency for Donald Trump. And this solved that emergency. The comparison, I think, that makes the most sense to me is during the Iraq War, there was a time when only Republicans who were backing President Bush thought the war was going better than it really was. They believed that it was going to get better. And they gave Bush whatever approval ratings he could get.

And I think that's a very similar scenario to what we have today. I don't believe that every single Trump supporter thinks there's an actual crisis at the border. I'm not sure that every Trump opponent is really opposed to, say, 50 miles more fence. But this is a polarized time. And support for what Trump does is support for Trump, and it's also opposition to your enemies. And it's going to manifest itself across a wide array of policy issues because they're all wrapped up. I mean, Trump is in everybody's head space.

GREENE: You say support for Trump - and maybe not necessarily support for conservative values here. Right? I mean, if the president goes forward with this, he might have to pull money away from improving military housing to build the wall. He may have to take property rights - private property rights along the border - through eminent domain. I mean, supporting service members, protecting property rights - those are some conservative causes. Does that weigh on Republicans here?

GOLDBERG: (Laughter) I think it does in private conversations. Look. This is why I've felt like I've been taking crazy pills for the last couple years. On trade, you have people who lost their livelihoods because of the various tariffs and protectionist policies that the president put in. And yet, they supported the president for doing it. You can go down a list of things, where people - their self-interest, their longstanding principles are violated by things that the Trump White House is doing. And they still support Donald Trump because they support Donald Trump. It's - we're in a kind of love-me, love-my-president kind of mode on the right these days. And it's very hard to, you know, coordinate with the past that we've all come to expect from conservatives.

GREENE: Jonah Goldberg is senior editor at National Review. Jonah, always great to have you. Thanks so much.

GOLDBERG: Great to be here - thank you.

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.