The fact that Donald Trump ran off to Camp David, then phoned in to the networks demanding exactly eight minutes of air time seemed to make it near certain that he was going to use the requested time to declare a “national emergency” on the border. And for about eight minutes of a speech that actually ran to nine, that seemed to be exactly where Trump was going. Trump insisted that there was a economic threat from jobs lost to undocumented workers coming across the border. That there was a “humanitarian crisis.” That coyotes were smuggling children, that women were being assaulted, that drugs were pouring in, and that crimes—many, many terrible crimes—were committed by undocumented immigrants.
Of course, he left out the part about how the great majority of drugs cross the border through legal ports of entry, or how much of the humanitarian crisis is the result of his own policies, or that the number of immigrants trying to cross the southern border is lower than at any time since 1972. Then, a funny thing happened in the last minute of Trump’s Oval Office appearance. Rather than declare a national emergency, he stated that he had “invited congressional leadership to the White House” on Wednesday to “get this done.” But that doesn’t mean that he won’t declare an emergency.
As Axios reports, Trump is still casting around for that magic solution that allows him to declare a “win” in his negotiations without actually negotiating. Trump feels he can’t step back from the number he’s stated … because the Right would make fun of him. He can’t give up anything in exchange … because the Right would make fun of him. So Trump’s strategy comes down to three options:
- He can hope the public turns against the Democrats. That’s the strategy Trump deployed during his speech by moaning about “those who refuse to compromise in the name of border security,” even as he continues to raise the dollar amount he wants.
- He can look for some way to steal the money elsewhere. The best possibility seems to be the Pentagon, where Trump might simply order the Army to build away and take the money from funds that were intended elsewhere, but may not yet be completely nailed down. Such an action may be challenged, and may fail, but at least Trump can beat his chest and claim not to have surrendered.
- He can declare a national emergency after all. That action is extremely likely to fail in court, but Trump can still make the “I tried” claim, bolstered by fund-raising off “liberal judges.”
Of course, Trump might actually try making a deal: accepting some lesser figure, or offering up an exchange big enough to make Democrats actually consider his wall demands. But that seems like the least likely outcome.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.