Nothing was more emblematic of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign than his proposed Great Wall of America, which was to leave us forever fortified against both Mexican rapists and White Walkers. You thought the Brexit stumpers and Rodrigo Duterte were nationalists; Trump so fervidly rejected globalism that his chief political promise was an actual border wall. The project was always more civic myth than concrete policy, and integral to its mystique was the notion that Mexico was somehow going to be battered into paying for it.
Many of the Trump supporters I’ve talked to were skeptical about the Legend of the Wall. They conceded that an impenetrable rampart on the southern border might be useful but they also understood it was slightly fantastical—their votes for Trump were more inchoate demands for change than endorsements of a quixotic policy blueprint. So I doubt too many of them will be crestfallen over news that The Wall, at least as it was proposed, is not going to happen.
Trump announced on Thursday he’s asking Congress, not Mexico City, to pay for his garish project. That means he’ll have to navigate it through the Republican House of Paul Ryan, who, with his milquetoast but accredited libertarian-ish sensibilities, is 1.) not inclined to spend bundles of taxpayer money on implausible vanity projects, 2.) not inclined to seize gargantuan parcels of privately owned land to build said implausible vanity projects, and 3.) not inclined to do much in the way of stopping illegal immigration at all. Constructing The Great Wall of America would likely be so messy as to make it, as Malcolm Tucker says in “In the Loop,” “the only political f*ck-up visible from space,” which is why the Border Patrol declined to build an actual wall along the vast majority of the 652 miles provided for in the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Is that really going to be overridden by Paul Ryan?
That’s not to say Trump won’t have his advocates in Congress. It’s also not to say he won’t be able to dial up the pressure, using his usual Twitter activism to explode congressional phones. But the Republican caucus in Congress is simply a different ideological animal. Republican senators from Jeff Flake to John McCain to Lisa Murkowski are already expressing doubt over the president-elect’s immigration plans — Trump will need almost all of them, given the GOP’s slender majority in the Senate. Others, like Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, have indicated they’re not going to hurry through cosmetic legislation that won’t work. And lest we forget, Republican leadership in the House has submitted approximately one amnesty bill for every two illegal immigrants currently living in the country. They won’t be inclined towards Trump on immigration, despite last year’s jarring election.
So my sense is that none of this is ever going to happen. Confronted with other priorities to which he’s clearly wedded — repealing Obamacare, rolling back regulations, punishing Chinese trade violations, cracking down on sanctuary cities — Trump, more pragmatic than he sometimes gets credit for, seems likely to discard his pet project and pursue more practical aims that won’t strain his relationship with Congress. The Wall will remain a mirage. But at least in the meantime, Trump is staying consistent:
I know 18 months of political campaign have inured us to this stuff, but the fact that Trump still lies with such aplomb is alarming.