Trump points to shutdown supporters who don’t appear to exist

The ongoing government shutdown is affecting roughly 800,000 federal workers and their families, but Donald Trump believes many of them are on his side. In fact, over the holiday weekend, the president said he’s heard from “many” of them directly, and they’re cheering him on.

Asked what message he’d share to the federal employees who’ve been furloughed, Trump said, “Many of those workers have said to me and communicated, ‘Stay out until you get the funding for the wall.’ … These federal workers want the wall. The only one that doesn’t want the wall are the Democrats.”

Multiple recent polls have found most Americans do not support Trump’s wall crusade. Democrats are clearly not “the only” ones opposed to the White House’s plan.

But it’s the idea that “many” furloughed federal workers have “communicated” their support to Trump that stood out for me. The president has frequently described conversations that only exist in his mind; is this the latest? Probably.

[U]nion leaders who represent many of those workers say that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“There should be no confusion about whether federal employees want the government to reopen. They are eager to get back to work. They unequivocally oppose using shutdowns as a means of resolving policy disputes. This is not about a wall, this is about 800,000 real people with real families and real bills to pay,” J. David Cox Sr., national president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) – a union that represents about 700,000 government workers, including border patrol agents from the Department of Homeland Security – said in a statement to TIME.

Randy Erwin, national president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, told  Time magazine, “I have personally spoken to dozens of [impacted federal employees], and leaders relaying information from many more, and I have not had one single person say we should have a shutdown until they build a wall.”

Erwin added, “I do find the president’s comments in that regard a little bit ridiculous.”

That seems more than fair under the circumstances, but there’s also a larger pattern to consider: Trump is constantly pointing to folks Bloomberg News recently described as “anonymous validators” – groups of people, none of whom the president is willing to identify by name, whom we’re supposed to believe secretly agree with Trump about his agenda.

Over the summer, for example, the president said he’s spoken directly with business leaders, suffering as a result of his trade-war policies, but who’ve encouraged him to leave those policies in place anyway.

Who are they? Trump wouldn’t say, but like that friend of yours in junior high who claimed to have an amazing girlfriend in Canada, whom you could never meet or talk to, we’re definitely supposed to believe that the imaginary people the president talked to exist.

Some of Trump’s favorite anonymous validators are congressional Democrats. In recent months, he’s described remarkable conversations in which unnamed Dems told him – in secret, of course – that they want a border wall, they don’t believe in the legitimacy of the Russia scandal, and they agree it was “very unfair” what former Attorney General Jeff Sessions did to the president.

In the president’s imagination, all of these people are real, and they’re all convinced of Trump’s wisdom. But if you’re looking for any of them in the real world, I’d recommend not looking too hard.