The construction of a massive border wall was one of President Donald Trump’s biggest and most contentious campaign promises. And its materialization, or lack thereof, could make or break the Republican Party’s future, according to Republican National Committee Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel.
Trump, early in his campaign for president, suggested that the construction project would begin on “day one.” The president also famously promised that he would somehow orchestrate a plan to have Mexico pay for the massive project.
The president said during a rally last February: “We are going to have borders nice and strong. We are going to build a wall. You know that. Going to build the wall…. Mexico is going to pay for the wall. Right? It’s going to happen. Going to happen. They know it. I know it. We all know it.”
Last summer, Trump the candidate doubled down, saying at a campaign rally: “We’re going to build a wall, folks. We’re going to build the wall. We’re going to build it. Don’t worry, we’re going to build the wall. That wall will go up so fast, your head will spin and you’ll say, you know, he meant it. And you know what else I mean? Mexico is going to pay for the wall.”
On Trump’s campaign website, a now missing page detailing the president’s “10-Point Plan to Put America First” listed as item No. 1: “Begin working on an impenetrable physical wall on the southern border, on day one. Mexico will pay for the wall.”
But, as with eliminating Obamacare, evidently nobody around Trump knew these things could be so complicated.
Earlier this week, Trump informed the American people that he didn’t actually mean Mexico was going to pay for the wall right now—just at some point, somehow, in the future.
That’s not a sarcastic exaggeration.
The president said via Twitter: “Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying, in some form, for the badly needed border wall.”
Of course, Trump isn’t at the moment requiring Congress to put the money up for his big, beautiful wall either. He backed off on a funding mandate for the project in a short-term spending measure to avoid arguments that could have led to a government shutdown.
There are competing estimates for how much the wall would cost—but, whoever ends up paying for it, will be forking over somewhere between $12 billion (Trump’s own estimate) and $70 billion (a figure put out by Senate Democrats). The Department of Homeland Security estimated the cost in February at around $22 billion.
As the situations currently sits, Trump will most likely have to wait until the next fiscal year to obtain funding for the project that was supposed to begin on day one.
But as the RNC’s McDaniel pointed out, that could be problematic for congressional conservatives facing re-election next year.
She told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham that she worries the voters most impressed by Trump’s hardline immigration stance could be heading to the polls disappointed at the lack of construction along the border.
“They’re going to lose the trust of our base if we don’t keep our promises, our base is going to walk away,” McDaniel said. “They’re going to feel like, ‘hey you said one thing on the campaign trail to get elected and you didn’t act on it.’”
“Certainly this was front and center in his campaign and our voters are going to expect us to act on it,” she added.
Others are less convinced that Trump voters really cared that much about the wall in the first place—but simply liked the idea of a president who would suggest such a bold action.
As Clare Malone wrote over at FiveThirtyEight:
While the president’s backing down could be read as a loss of face, it could also more charitably be interpreted as good politics. The wall was a useful metaphor … that helped Trump get elected; it was brash shorthand that communicated his restrictive immigration policies to voters. And many of them interpreted it as such; most voters didn’t vote for Trump because they were eager to see construction start, according to polls, but rather because they wanted to elect a man willing to take such a bold, fiscally dadaist stance.
And Trump’s brash language on immigration actually has had a positive effect in terms of reducing the number of people attempting to enter the country illegally.
Even the failing New York Times has pointed out:
[W]ithout the wall, illegal crossings of the Southwest border have been falling drastically.
The number of people apprehended fell 40 percent from January to February and again 30 percent from February to March, according to the Customs and Border Protection agency. The White House has attributed that to Mr. Trump’s tough talk and bolstered enforcement. Since November, when Mr. Trump was elected, illegal crossings have fallen by nearly 75 percent.
But Trump doesn’t want Americans listening to them.
“Don’t let the fake media tell you that I have changed my position on the WALL,” he said via Twitter Tuesday. “It will get built and help stop drugs, human trafficking etc.”
But if the president isn’t certain that he can make good on that promise, he’d be further ahead to stop repeating it while undertaking a less ambitious approach to improving the patchwork of barriers that already exist along the border and continuing to increase enforcement tactics.