Politics & Policy

Trump’s Wall Is an Outlandish Promise Even By Campaign Standards

(Scott Olson/Getty)

Donald Trump has staked his campaign on Making America Great Again. Which, apparently, means making Americans feel like the possessed child in The Exorcist.

Here’s Trump promising to deport every illegal immigrant in the United States within two years: “I will get them out so fast that your head would spin, long before I even can start the wall.”

Here he is promising to oversee a, ahem, winning foreign policy: “I will be so good at the military, your head will spin.”

And here’s his son, Eric, on that Mexican wall: “My father will build the wall so fast, people’s heads will spin.”

There’s nothing wrong with optimism — presidential campaigns would be even harder to stomach without it. But Trump’s promises are so grandiose and vague they could never be kept.

And there may be no promise more grandiose and ill-considered than the wall. On Day One, Trump would face the question of how to get Mexico to pay for it. Trump’s plan here includes impounding all remittance payments derived from illegal wages and sent South. Presuming Congress passed the appropriate laws, the federal government could make it much more difficult for Mexican workers in the U.S. to send money back home. Even then, though, there’s a limit to how much pressure we could exert: Mexican-worker remittances totaled $23.6 billion in 2014, or only about 1 percent of Mexico’s GDP.

And the Mexican government is vehemently opposed to writing an $8 billion to $10 billion check to finance a project that isn’t in its economic interest. On Wednesday, Treasury secretary Luis Videgaray stated “emphatically and categorically” that there was “no circumstance” under which his country would write such a check. So while squeezing Mexico to pay up might be popular domestically, the likelihood of success would be low, and the likelihood of immediate success would be nil.

#share#And if the Mexican government eventually relented and wrote a check, President Trump would need Congress to appropriate that money for constructing the wall. Even if Republicans keep control of the Senate in November, Democrats would almost certainly filibuster and use every procedural and parliamentary maneuver in the book to prevent funding the wall. It is likely that the vote for funding construction of a border wall would be the biggest, most consequential, and hardest-fought since the passage of Obamacare. Wall supporters could expect accusations of hateful xenophobia to reach a fever pitch.

Trump’s signature promise likely couldn’t be fulfilled until mid-way through his second term at the earliest.

And if he won that fight, Trump would still have to contend with a variety of environmental regulations before he could break ground. In April 2008, during the construction of a previous border fence, then–Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff waived 36 federal environmental laws in order to speed up the process. Environmental groups sued, arguing that Chertoff had overstepped his authority, but lost when the Supreme Court declined to take their case. Every group opposed to Trump’s wall would surely sue again to stop the project if it got that far. The Trump administration might win most of these cases eventually, but the legal proceedings would likely be lengthy.

#related#And until all of these obstacles were overcome — until funding was procured from Mexico, the Congress gave its approval, and the courts signed off — construction of the wall couldn’t even begin. Structural engineers argue that, pulling out all the stops, the wall could be completed in four years. Trump’s signature promise likely couldn’t be fulfilled until mid-way through his second term at the earliest.

Which isn’t to say the U.S. shouldn’t build a wall. America deserves a secure border, and if the current tools —patrols, motion detectors, drones, fencing, natural geographic barriers — aren’t enough, then the government has a responsibility to pursue other options. But building the wall would be much more difficult than candidate Trump pretends. Voters who are fed up with being promised the moon only to wake up to the same rotten status quo are a big part of Trump’s success. How angry would they be to find out their savior was no more capable of bending reality to his will than the men he replaced?

— Jim Geraghty is the senior political correspondent for National Review.

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