Politics

Trump's biggest media supporters turn on him after government reopens without border wall funding

Key Points
  • Some elites of the pro-Trump media sphere have turned on the president for his failure to secure border wall funding after a 35-day partial government shutdown.
  • Trump signed a measure Friday to reopen the government for three weeks while border security negotiations continued.
  • After Trump signed the stopgap measure, Coulter sent a flurry of tweets attacking Trump as a "wimp."
President Donald Trump looks out at reporters in the Rose Garden as he speaks after a meeting with U.S. Congressional leaders about the government shutdown at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 4, 2019.
Jim Young | Reuters

After singing his praises for years, some of President Donald Trump's most influential defenders have abruptly changed their tunes.

Just as recent polls show Trump's base of supporters shrinking, some elites of the pro-Trump media sphere have turned on the president for his failure to secure border wall funding after a 35-day partial government shutdown.

While politicians generally pay close attention to the media, even Republicans in Congress have speculated that a handful of conservative pundits hold significant sway over this president. He reportedly maintains close relationships with some talk-show hosts and has even invited some to speak at his campaign-style rallies.

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The impasse in Congress over whether to fund a border wall — Trump's signature promise during the 2016 campaign and a major plank of his presidential agenda — resulted in hundreds of thousands of federal workers missing at least one paycheck, a bevy of government services halted and a spike in sick leave among some Transportation Security Administration staff that caused delays at major airports.

Trump demanded that any bill include $5.7 billion toward a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, but Democrats refused. With polls showing a majority of Americans blaming him for the standoff, Trump, who said that he would be "proud" to shut down the government over the wall, signed a measure Friday to reopen the government for three weeks while negotiations over border security continued. It was an option he could have taken at any point during the shutdown.

The move was panned by some of his staunchest conservative allies, who viewed it as a capitulation to Democrats.

Ann Coulter
David Orrell | CNBC

None were more explicit than right-wing commentator and immigration hard-liner Ann Coulter, the author of "In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome!" who once tweeted that she wouldn't care if Trump "wants to perform abortions in [the] White House" if he passed the immigration policies proposed during the campaign.

After Trump signed the three-week stopgap measure, Coulter sent a flurry of tweets attacking Trump as a "wimp."

Trump and the White House both dismissed Coulter's salvos this week.

"I hear she's become very hostile," Trump said of Coulter in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal published Sunday. "Maybe I didn't return her phone call or something."

At a White House press briefing Monday — the first in 41 days — a reporter cited Coulter while asking press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders how the president can claim he has made no concessions in the border security fight.

Sanders responded: "Conservatives that actually have influence are still supporting the president throughout this process."

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Trump has defended the measure as being "in no way a concession." On the day it was signed, Trump suggested that he was willing to shut down the government again or use his presidential powers to declare a national emergency in order to bypass Congress in pursuit of the wall. "If no deal is done, it's off to the races!" He tweeted.

"I don't think Ann Coulter was ever Trump's base," former Trump campaign advisor Michael Caputo told CNBC, before clarifying that "I'm not saying that she is not his base — she's part of his base. But she doesn't represent his base. She represents a wing of the base."

Asked about the three-week funding bill, Caputo said, "I see it as a concession, but it's all part of his strategy" to get the wall. "He clearly made a decision that he's going to have to break some eggs to make an omelette here," Caputo said.

Coulter wasn't the only Trump supporter with harsh words for the president.

The Daily Caller, a conservative news site co-founded by Fox News opinion host Tucker Carlson, ran an all-caps headline, "TRUMP CAVES," on Friday, The Washington Post reported.

Fox Business host Lou Dobbs said Friday that "the president pleased few of his supporters" by signing the stopgap legislation.

"And the illegal immigrants are surely pleased at the prospect they may soon jump to the front of the line while legal immigrants aren't even part of the discussion in the nation's capital," Dobbs said.

Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who said that he spoke with Trump about the border security fight in December, cast blame on the president and congressional Republicans alike for failing to come through on the wall so far.

"You could get mad at Trump all you want, you can get mad, but why wasn't this done when the Republicans had the House for two years and the Senate for two? Why wasn't it done? And you could even ask Trump. Why didn't you push for it?" Limbaugh said Monday.

Others in the president's media orbit, including Fox News host Sean Hannity and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, stepped in to do damage control following the disparaging remarks from some of their peers.

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"Don't let what is what I believe a shift in strategy fool you, because I don't have any doubt at all that the president is going to fight as hard, if not harder, for the money for the wall," Hannity reportedly said on his radio show Monday night.

On "Fox & Friends" that morning, Gingrich took on Coulter directly: "She doesn't know anything about how you put a majority together. She's off here in some fantasyland where she gets to be noisy, which helps her sell books."

Coulter tweeted a blistering response.

When the shutdown began in December, former Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., lamented the influence that Trump's media supporters appear to have over the president.

"This is tyranny of talk radio hosts, right? And so, how do you deal with that?" Corker said to reporters, according to the Post. "You have two talk radio hosts who completely flipped the president. And so, do we succumb to tyranny of talk radio hosts?"

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski agreed, saying in late December that conservative pundits were "absolutely" a factor in the standoff, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

"So we gave him a clean [continuing resolution] and he had lunch with a few people from the House. He listened to conservative talk radio and, whoops, all of a sudden, 'No way am I going to sign a CR. The only thing that's going to be acceptable is $5 billion period. End of story,'" she reportedly said.

"So, yes. Yes, I think it has. I think clearly it had an impact."