IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Trump's preoccupation with the Coast Guard's 'brand' gets a little weirder

"There's no brand that's gone up like the Coast Guard," Trump said on Thanksgiving. It's worth considering why he keeps saying this.
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. (Photo by LaNola Stone/U.S. Coast Guard/ AP)
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. 

During a Thanksgiving teleconference with members of the military, Donald Trump repeated one of his favorite lines: "There's no brand that's gone up like the Coast Guard over the last couple of years." Soon after, at a Coast Guard station near the president's private club in South Florida, he said it again.

"I think nobody has gone up more than the Coast Guard, when you look at the hurricanes in Texas -- in particular Texas, you saved so many people. But Texas and Florida, Puerto Rico, now North Carolina, South Carolina."But the job you've done is really fantastic. And there's -- nothing has gone -- if you were doing the brand, they would say this is one of the great brand increases."

In June, as hurricane season got underway, Trump traveled to FEMA headquarters for a briefing where he also said, "[I]n terms of increased branding, the brand of the Coast Guard has been something incredible what's happened."

It's part of a lengthy pattern, which apparently started in September 2017, after the president addressed the federal response to Hurricane Irma. "If you talk about branding," he said, despite the fact that no one was talking about branding, "no brand has improved more than the United States Coast Guard."

Trump repeated the line again and again in the months that followed.

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 it's worth pausing to wonder why in the world he keeps saying this.

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," what I think Trump is effectively saying is he didn't fully appreciate what guardsmen and women do before taking office.

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."