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How Trump's Base Is Responding To Emergency Declaration


President Trump declared a national emergency to build a border wall, and now he'll have to defend it. The administration has already been hit by several lawsuits. And even some Republicans are expressing concerns about possible executive overreach. So how are Trump's most loyal supporters thinking about the latest developments in the border security debate?

To answer that, we are joined by Chris Buskirk. He's a conservative radio host and the author of a book called "American Greatness." And he's in our studios at NPR West. Chris, thanks for being back on the show.

CHRIS BUSKIRK: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Do you support President Trump's decision to declare the national emergency?

BUSKIRK: Yeah. My big - my only complaint is that he didn't do it a long time ago. But I do support it. I think it was time, and I guess, as I alluded to, I think it was beyond time.

MARTIN: Even the president himself admitted that there was another path, though. This is part of President Trump's remarks in the Rose Garden Friday when he announced this.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn't need to do this, but I'd rather do it much faster.

MARTIN: The president is undermining his own argument - there is a need. I mean, how can this be an emergency when he was saying it is optional?

BUSKIRK: Yeah. I think maybe that wasn't necessarily the best argument he could have put forward. I think most of the people who support what he was doing were watching that Rose Garden speech. And as, I guess - I was going to say most, but I think all of Trump's remarks like this are off the cuff. And he doesn't do himself any favors when he speaks extemporaneously like that.

MARTIN: Although, as you well know, Democrats seized on this and critics of the national emergency seized on this because they don't see this as an emergency. And even President Obama, who is often cited by President Trump as having used executive action, didn't declare a national emergency, that this is atypical for a situation like this.

BUSKIRK: Yeah. Look. I mean, there's been something like 50-some odd national emergencies declared since the act was passed in 1976. I mean, moving money around that's already been appropriated is a well-established path for Republicans and Democrat presidents. The issue here I think really isn't so much a legal problem. This'll go to court very quickly. It'll ultimately wind up in the Supreme Court, as the president himself said in that Rose Garden speech.

The problem I think, or the - maybe I should say the challenge, but either way, is more a political one. The president obviously is starting to think about the 2020 re-election campaign. And if you are going to make this a centerpiece of the campaign, which obviously the president wants to do, then you need to make the political case. You need to try and persuade people that this was the right thing to do it.

It's something that he was pretty effective doing in 2015 and '16. And if you want to try and persuade people that this really is something that needs to be done, needs to be done quickly, then you can't go and do it on the one hand and then say, well, you know, I didn't really have to do it on the other. You need to be more thoughtful about the rhetoric that you use because what you're trying to do is educate people to persuade them to think about this particular issue the way that you do, to explain what's going on with drug trafficking, with human smuggling, these sorts of things.

MARTIN: Can I ask, is part of - what you're suggesting is that the base is looking at this and isn't exactly buying it the same way they did in 2016. Does some of that have to do with the president's own framing? I mean, at Trump rallies, the centerpiece was we're going to build a wall, and who's going to pay for it? Mexico.

BUSKIRK: (Laughter).

MARTIN: And now it's the American taxpayer. I mean, now, to be specific, it's military families who won't have their their quarters upgraded because the money, $3.5 billion of it, is going to come from military construction projects.

BUSKIRK: You know, I don't think it's that - I don't think it's the base that the president needs to persuade. The base is persuaded on this and has been for years. Before Trump ever got into politics, the base was persuaded on this issue.

I think what the president needs to do is persuade people outside of the base, those people who are persuadable, who are - sort of could go either way on this issue. That's what he needs to do if he is going to try and generate the support that he needs long-term to make this project work in practice but also to work politically, is - and expand the base, go beyond those people who already believe it, who already buy into it.

MARTIN: So how does he do that? He has not shown an interest in governing from the center.

BUSKIRK: Yeah. I - it's - I - and I'm not one of these people who thinks that you have to try and sort of tack between left and right. I think you need to do - I think you need to practice statesmanship, which means to try and explain your case, to persuade. And that's what he needs to do, is - he took a little stab at it at the - in the January 8 Oval Office address to the nation. He took another stab at it at the State of the Union.

This - if this is going to continue to be a centerpiece of the president's agenda - I think it's going to be - then he needs to do that on a sustained and thoughtful basis and do it in a way that explains what he sees as the challenges. And then you get to the point where you could say, well, this is the solution.

MARTIN: Conservative radio host Chris Buskirk, thanks so much for your time.

BUSKIRK: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.