Dara Lind · Friday, April 28, 2017, 10:04 am
Turning Trump’s biggest promise into policy threatens to pit his party against his base.
From the moment he made it his central campaign proposal to build a wall on the US/Mexico border (and make Mexico pay for it), Donald Trump signed his hypothetical administration up to fight for its construction. “Build the wall!” became a chant everywhere from campaign rallies to high-school basketball games.
The wall arguably handed Trump his biggest win — the presidency itself. It could turn out to be one of his biggest failures.
The fundamental problem is that very few people in the Republican Party affirmatively want a literal, physical, concrete wall across the US/Mexico border. And in fact, there are constituencies both in the party (like Texas border landowners and the lawmakers who represent them) and within the Trump administration’s orbit (like Border Patrol agents) who have good reasons to fight hard against such a thing.
But anything short of a literal, physical, concrete wall threatens to disappoint two constituencies who also carry serious weight with the president: the Trumpist base, for whom the wall has become a symbol of making America great again, and cable news pundits who’ll find it all too easy to needle Trump over backing down on his central campaign promise.
The administration pushed hard on including money for the wall in the funding bill to keep the government open, and even feinted toward allowing the government to shut down if funding wasn’t included — signaling Trump still intends to keep his promise. But the speed with which Trump folded on the shutdown threat is a hint that he might have realized the sell will be a tough one, even with Republican majorities in both chambers.
But what we saw this week was only the faintest echo of the difficulties the administration might have once it actually tries to make the wall real.
Some uphill battles are worth picking in politics, either because they're important policies, or because they galvanize one's base and split one's opposition. This is the sort of fight that threatens to do the opposite. If you thought the fight over health care showed that President Trump doesn't have a governing coalition, you haven't seen anything yet.
The closer the wall comes to reality, the more intra-GOP fights will metastasize over it
Let’s be honest: Many of the people who voted for Donald Trump — maybe even most of them — don’t actually care if a wall is built on the US/Mexico border or not.