It would be 35 feet tall ― at least. It would be 1,000 miles long, and extend deep enough underground to prevent Mexicans from tunneling beneath it. And it would be impenetrable: “It’s going to be made of hardened concrete, and it’s going to be made of rebar. That’s steel,” he explained to a Virginia audience.
Most important of all: It wouldn’t cost U.S. taxpayers a dime. “Who’s paying for the wall?” Trump would ask in a campaign rally call-and-response favorite. And his fans would answer: “Mexico!”
Now, it turns out, President Trump’s wall may be none of those things. Early specifications call for only an 18-foot wall, although 30 feet is preferable. The material is unspecified, and the Cabinet member in charge of building it has said in some places it might be more a series of sensors than an actual structure. As to who will pay for it, it turns out Mexico is not particularly interested in doing that, leaving U.S. taxpayers on the hook ― if and when work actually starts. Except that Congress isn’t that eager to spend tens of billions of dollars for Trump’s project either.
“Nobody wants to pay for it. What a shock,” said Edward Alden, a research fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of The Closing of the American Border. “The reality is that there’s not much of a constituency for the border wall.”
Rick Wilson, a Republican political consultant and longtime Trump critic who supported Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in the 2016 presidential primary, said Trump successfully wooed the anti-immigrant slice of voters in his party with the wall promise, not knowing or caring whether building it made any sense.
“It was the central promise of his campaign. He’s going to build a wall, and make Mexico pay for it,” Wilson said. “He will never get this done. This is never happening.”
Trump and his White House have projected mixed signals in recent days about his level of interest in construction money for the wall, as Congress tries to pass a funding bill to keep the federal government operating past Friday. Last week, Trump’s budget director raised alarms among GOP leaders on Capitol Hill by suggesting that Trump was insisting that this funding bill include money for his wall ― increasing the risk of a government shutdown that would reflect badly on Republicans who control both chambers of Congress as well as the White House.
Trump tweeted on Sunday: “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.”
The next day, he followed up with a two-part tweet: “The Wall is a very important tool in stopping drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth (and many others)! If the wall is not built, which it will be, the drug situation will NEVER be fixed the way it should be!”
That same evening, though, he told conservative media outlets that he’s OK with holding off on seeking congressional funding for it until the new fiscal year ― only to follow up the next morning with a new tweet responding to the resulting news stories: “Don’t let the fake media tell you that I have changed my position on the WALL. It will get built and help stop drugs, human trafficking etc.”
Making progress toward building his southern border wall is not the only campaign promise Trump has failed to deliver on. He has not repealed the Affordable Care Act, torn up the nuclear deal with Iran, or labeled China a currency manipulator ― among a long list of other unaccomplished Day One and Day 100 goals.
Still, building the wall was among Trump’s first promises when he began his unlikely presidential bid, as was his repeated insistence that Mexico would somehow pay for it.
“I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border,” he said while announcing his candidacy at Trump Tower, following his now-famous ride down the escalator. “And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.”
As Mexican officials ― including, famously, former President Vicente Fox ― said Mexico absolutely would not pay for Trump’s wall, Trump just grew more combative. “Yeah, get your money ready, because you’re going to pay for the wall,” Trump said on Fox News last May.
What played well as campaign theater, though, appears to be less effective in real life. Trump never offered a logical reason for the Mexican government to pay for a border wall that it did not want ― a fact Trump seemed to acknowledge when he met with current President Enrique Peña Nieto last summer and failed to discuss the issue.
Now, three months into his presidency, Trump has few realistic options for making Mexico pay. Early on, White House press secretary Sean Spicer floated the idea of a specific tax on Mexican products or using proceeds from a House plan to impose a tariff on imports generally ― but economists quickly pointed out that American consumers, not foreign governments, would be paying those taxes.
Nevertheless, even as congressional Republicans prepared a funding bill with no new money for Trump’s wall, Trump himself continued to insist that it would happen ― at some point.
“The wall gets built ― 100 percent,” he told reporters Tuesday.
Unlike last week, when his staff was saying the money would be in the coming funding bill, Trump on Tuesday would not specify when the money would be available ― meaning that the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1 could be his next realistic shot.
That would be Day 255. Not Day One.