Is Trump Climbing the Learning Curve of “The Wall”?

Trump opponents are gloating that he has caved on “the Wall” he has long called for on our southern border with Mexico. But, what if we celebrated that he may have come up a learning curve as to what is cost-effective and politically viable.

In announcing the reopening last week of the government after the partial shutdown caused by a political impasse over this issue, Trump said something that gave me pause.

“We do not need 2,000 miles of concrete wall from sea to shining sea — we never did; we never proposed that; we never wanted that — because we have barriers at the border where natural structures are as good as anything that we can build.  They’re already there.  They’ve been there for millions of years,” Trump said in reopening the government.

That probably came as a surprise to voters who agreed with his repeated calls for “the Wall” that Mexico would pay for. This is very different that the imagery he campaigned on:

“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 and I’ll have Mexico pay for that wall.”

Living in Texas and having camped out on the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona in the presence of Border Patrol, I always thought that vision seemed impractical.

We all have heard the “build the wall” refrain from Trump and his backers for a long time. His message became somewhat more specific of late. On Jan. 2, he tweeted that the idea is to build upon what we already have in place.

“Mexico is paying for the Wall through the new USMCA Trade Deal. Much of the Wall has already been fully renovated or built. We have done a lot of work. $5.6 Billion Dollars that House has approved is very little in comparison to the benefits of National Security. Quick payback!”

Now, at that time, he was asking for $5.7 billion for the wall. What were the specifics? As USA Today reported before the government reopened, the Trump administration’s plan called for 100 miles of new fence and replacing/strengthening 215 miles of existing barrier. Currently, the paper noted, 654 miles of the border is fences and 1,350 miles is open.

In his reopening remarks, Trump said the idea is to place barriers at locations determined by the Border Patrol and to enhance manpower and equipment, especially at ports of entry where drugs come through. The details are now in the hands of congressional negotiators and they face a deadline.

Now, at the end of his remarks, he revived some of his older wording.

“So let me be very clear: We really have no choice but to build a powerful wall or steel barrier.  If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on February 15th, again, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and the Constitution of the United States to address this emergency.”

Yes, he is still saying build a wall, but he’s not saying build the wall, which was typically understood – by his proponents and opponents – as some monolithic barrier across the entire border with Mexico. Ideally, by February 15, a very specific border security plan will come out that can be agreed to and we can eventually proceed to arriving at policy and spending decisions the old-fashioned way: with hearings, so the American People understand all the facts and the cost-benefit analyses that apply, rather than rhetoric. Moreover, let’s hope we really do put in place enhanced border security.