Donald Trump, the first president with a professional branding background, cares an enormous amount about what things are called. It began just weeks into his presidency, when the White House briefly insisted that we stop calling Trump’s Muslim ban a “ban.”
Later in the year, some Department of Health and Human Services officials received guidance telling them to use “Obamacare” instead of the Affordable Care Act, and to use “exchanges” instead of “marketplaces.” Around the same time, certain State Department documents started referring to sex education as “sexual risk avoidance.”
Trump has similarly rejected use of words and phrases such as “Dreamers” and “community colleges,” and one of his principal goals during NAFTA talks was to give the tweaked trade agreement a new name.
Evidently, he’s suddenly not sure about the word “wall,” either. The Washington Post reported overnight:
At an Oval Office meeting Thursday with [House Republican leaders], Trump was calm and did not yell, but was resolute and “dug in on what he wants,” said a Republican official briefed on the discussion.
Trump spent six to seven minutes in the meeting with Ryan and McCarthy talking about “steel slats” and saying that the term was preferable to calling the proposed construction a “wall,” as the president has done for more than three years.
Soon after that meeting, at an unrelated bill-signing ceremony, the president declared, “At this moment, there is a debate over funding border security and the wall, also called – so that I give them a little bit of an out – ‘steel slats.’ We don’t use the word ‘wall’ necessarily, but it has to be something special to do the job – steel slats.”
As ridiculous as the comments were, the key phrase in that quote is, “I give them a little bit of an out.”
It appears that in Trump’s mind, Democratic objections to the White House’s proposal are rooted in word choice. To hear the president tell it, Dems are perfectly on board with a 2,000-mile-long physical structure that would separate the United States from Mexico, but they’re politically opposed to the idea of building “the wall.”
And with this in mind, Trump seems to think he can simply apply his branding expertise to fix the problem. Democrats won’t spend $5 billion on a concrete border wall? Fine. The president will instead seek $5 billion on “artistically designed steel slats.”
It’s a win-win, right? Trump will get his barrier, Dems will be able say they didn’t approve funding for “the wall.” The president will have succeeded by giving them “a little bit of an out.”
This might be an effective plan if Democratic congressional leaders were slow-witted children with no underlying interest in the substance of governing, and whose sole focus was on word choice and branding. But since this isn’t the case, Trump shouldn’t be too disappointed when this little gambit fails spectacularly.