It has been clear for a while — OK, like forever — that Mexico was never going to pay for Donald Trump’s fantasy border wall. But now it’s also clear, after Trump’s latest failed game of legislative chicken, that Congress isn’t going to pay for it either.
The wall may be, as Lindsey Graham put it, only a metaphor. But Graham was being kind, saying the wall stood for border security — you know, with 40-feet-tall border agents and scary sci-fi-looking drones. In other words, not for the actual big and beautiful physical wall, with the president’s name surely plastered across it, that Trump has repeatedly promised.
But what the wall really stands for is the giant barrier that separates Trump from reality, Trump from truth, Trump from any understanding of how governing works.
It’s almost funny — no, actually in this case, it is funny — that Trump thought he could force Democrats to help pay for his fantasy wall by threatening to cut off subsidies for Obamacare and, as if that weren’t enough, to threaten a government shutdown.
The problem is, he had no actual leverage. It was all a bluff, and not a very good one. Why would Democrats cave on Obamacare when Trump and the Republicans are trying their hardest to repeal and — say it with me — replace Obamacare? Any intentional gutting of the law, affecting many of Trump’s own voters, would be all on Trump. And, more to the point, why would Democrats bail out Republicans on a government shutdown when a shutdown would be the latest, and most obvious, sign of Trump’s failed first 100 days.
He had no choice but to back down and to make the case to his tired-of-winning base that, geez, he tried. The question is: Will they buy it? (Hint: probably.)
For the rest of the country, a shutdown would have guaranteed an F on any Trump report card, and even Trump must have been able to figure that out. He might have held out for a D-minus if he hadn’t made it so obvious that he held no cards when making his bet.
So, he has added another humiliating defeat where none was necessary. Congress had worked out a drama-free bipartisan agreement on keeping the government open until the Trump administration threatened to veto the bill. It should have been clear to anyone that Democrats would never agree to pony up $1 billion or so in down payment for a wall they loathe, or even for a symbol of a wall they loathe. But it wasn’t clear to Trump, who desperately needed a win of some kind.
He didn’t understand that the Democratic base would never allow it. We’ve seen the base at work, threatening Republicans in special elections in the most Republican of Republican districts. We’ve seen the marches. We’ve even seen the base go after Bernie Sanders for being lukewarm on Jon Ossoff. Democratic activists demand that Democrats fight Trump at every turn — even at the risk of losing, as they did with Neil Gorsuch — and the chance to go toe-to-toe on the wall was irresistible.
If Trump sees the wall as a seminal campaign promise, so do Democrats. Now Trump is saying he’ll delay the fight until September. He’ll lose then, too. In fact, it’s more likely that Trump will put a man on Mars by September than that he’ll get his wall built.
How ineffectual did Trump look with his cave-signaling tweet: “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.”
Eventually. Later date. Some form. If only this had been as easy as sending the tomahawk missiles to Syria, in what now looks like a one-off piece of non-strategy. If only this had been as easy as saying an armada was heading toward North Korea when, in fact, it was heading in the opposite direction. Who knew?
Trump is now arguing that the wall was needed for more than stopping bad hombres, but also to limit the flow of drugs from Mexico into the United States. The fact-checkers jumped on that, showing that most drugs don’t arrive on the backs of undocumented immigrants but in trucks and cars through the regular checkpoints. And the fact-checkers didn’t need to state the obvious — that even if a $25 billion wall could stop drugs coming from Mexico, they’d come from somewhere else. It’s capitalism, dude. The market rules. And besides Jeff Sessions is already promising to come after legalized pot. Won’t that work?
Trump didn’t mention, either, that many Republicans, particularly those whose districts are along the border, oppose the wall. Even Cory Gardner publicly opposes spending billions on a wall. And then there’s the polling, which shows that Obamacare is now more popular than the wall (which may be, in fact, Trump’s singular achievement).
The failures and flip-flops are, by now, legion. Obselete NATO. Currency-manipulating China. Export-Import banking. Paying off the national debt in eight years. Failing to even bring Obamacare, which was supposed to be gone on Day One, to a vote in the heavily Republican House. Failing to get his little-disguised Muslim travel ban past an island-bound judge.
The polls show Trump at historic lows in public approval. This is not surprising. He was running historic lows before he got elected. He’ll be running historic lows when he runs for re-election in 2020, which may well tempt one of the failed Republican contenders to try to primary him again.
But it must be remembered that Trump has his own base, the one that got him elected president and stands in opposition to the energized Democratic base. And even if Trump’s fake-news poll numbers are at historic lows, the one number he gladly claims is from the ABC News/Washington Post poll showing that 96 percent of his voters say they have no regrets and, at least for now, would vote for Trump again.
That’s where we are as we, uh, celebrate 100-Day Week. A country as divided as it has been for at least 50 years. And, as I write this, with only 1,365 days left in Trump’s first term to change anyone’s mind.
Credit line: Photo by Yashima via flickr: Creative Commons.