In this July 19, 2015 photo released by the U.S. Coast Guard, a Coast Guard Cutter Stratton boarding team investigates a self-propelled semi-submersible in international waters off the coast of Central America. 
Photo by LaNola Stone/U.S. Coast Guard/ AP

Trump’s preoccupation with the Coast Guard’s ‘brand’ gets a little weird

In September, Donald Trump spoke briefly to reporters about the federal response to Hurricane Irma, and he singled out the Coast Guard for praise. “If you talk about branding,” the president said, despite the fact that no one was talking about branding, “no brand has improved more than the United States Coast Guard.”

In November, he did it again. “You know, the Coast Guard, always respected, but if you were looking at it as a brand, there’s no brand that went up more than the Coast Guard,” Trump said in Florida. Moments later, he added, “I think that there is no brand, of any kind – I’m not just talking about a military brand – that has gone up more than the Coast Guard.”

Late last week, Trump spoke at the U.S. Coast Guard Change-of-Command Ceremony. Take a wild guess what he wanted to talk about.

“I don’t think any brand has gained more momentum or has gained more of anything than the brand of the United States Coast Guard. People have tremendous respect for the United States Coast Guard. It’s true. Right? I’ve told you that before.”

Well, yes, I suppose he has, though I’m curious as to why the president keeps focusing on the Coast Guard’s “brand.”

To be sure, I’m glad to see Trump sing the Coast Guard’s praises; those men and women have clearly earned the support. But circling back to our previous coverage, it’s easy to get the impression that the president personally had no idea what the Coast Guard does. When he says the Coast Guard’s brand “has improved,” or “has gained momentum,” what I think Trump is effectively saying is he’s just now starting to appreciate what guardsmen and women do.

It’s a rhetorical cousin to the president’s overuse of the phrases “People don’t realize” and “A lot of people don’t know that.” They appear to be Trump’s way of saying, “I recently learned something, and since I wasn’t aware of it, I’m going to assume most people didn’t know it, either.”

In this case, what Trump apparently didn’t know until he became president is that the Coast Guard is impressive.

That said, let’s not forget that early last year, the White House was eager to find money to pay for Trump’s proposed border wall, and the president weighed “significant cuts” to the Coast Guard’s budget. At the time, CNBC’s John Harwood spoke to a U.S. security official who described the possibility as “insane.”

That, of course, was before the president came to appreciate the Coast Guard’s improved “brand.”