Trump Is Taking Credit for Resolving the Crises He Created

The president seems to be following a familiar playbook with his threat to impose sweeping tariffs on Mexico to gain leverage on the immigration issue

Brendan Nyhan
GEN
Published in
5 min readJun 4, 2019

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Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

One of Donald Trump’s signature moves as president is to act as both arsonist and firefighter, taking credit for resolving pseudo-crises that he in fact initiated. The latest example came Friday, when Trump declared another immigration crisis at the country’s southern border with Mexico, and threatened to impose tariffs on all goods imported from the country if it didn’t take action to stem the flow of migrants. This latest escalation will likely end in Trump taking credit for an expected decline in immigration.

These tactics, of course, are not without precedent. Politicians frequently claim there is a crisis when they want to change public policy around an issue. Incumbents everywhere present themselves as responsible for the status quo when times are good. But we’ve seemingly never had a president who so frequently declares a crisis or even starts one — and then takes credit for solving it.

This pattern dates to before Trump even took office. In some cases, the scheme is an entirely rhetorical move in which he warns of crisis and then claims credit for preventing it from happening. For example, Trump frequently claimed, falsely, that jobs and unemployment data showing the economy improving under President Obama were bogus. But once he became president, he embraced those same figures, which he said showed that his policies had turned around the economy. By May 2017, then-White House spokesperson Sean Spicer was stating that the jobs data “may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.” Trump himself frequently takes credit for the economy even though the trend in job growth predates his Oval Office tenure.

Trump also frequently claims to have prevented the outsourcing of jobs that were never in danger of shifting abroad in the first place. Soon after his election, for instance, Trump suggested that a Ford plant would stay in Kentucky rather than being moved to Mexico because of his efforts, writing on Twitter, “I worked hard with Bill Ford to keep the Lincoln plant in Kentucky. I owed it to…

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Brendan Nyhan
GEN
Writer for

Professor of Public Policy, University of Michigan