WASHINGTON — In his blockbuster 2016 campaign for president, Donald Trump made a lot of big proposals to fix our country’s problems that he said could be accomplished relatively quickly.
His biggest proposal was to build “a big, beautiful wall” along our 2,000-mile border with Mexico. But one year and three months into his presidency, that wall is still a figment of his imagination, and most likely will never be built.
But that’s just one-half of his proposal. To build a wall of that size and length would cost at least $80 billion, and likely a great deal more. The other half of his pledge to voters was that Mexico would pay for it. And millions of his supporters believed him.
Throughout his whirlwind campaign, Trump would ask the legions of of voters who packed his rallies, “Who is going to pay for the wall?” And his supporters would roar back, “Mexico!”
Yet, from the very beginning, the president of Mexico repeatedly said his country would never pay for the wall, and told Trump just that at a meeting late in the campaign. (More on that in a minute.)
But Trump continued to insist he would make Mexico cough up the money, though he never detailed how he would do that.
Throughout the campaign he described a wall that would be made of thick precast concrete slabs and soar 35 to 40 feet into the air.
“It’s going to be a high wall; it’s going to be beautiful,” he said, adding that it was going to be “so easy” to make Mexico to pay for it.
But it wasn’t long before cracks began to appear in his vision of a wall along the border, where in many places, experts said, it could not be constructed because of impassable terrain. At best, the wall would be about 1,000 miles long.
Then, when the time came to pass this year’s deficit-laden $1.3 trillion budget, Congress began to have second thoughts about Trump’s wall, which many considered to be a huge boondoggle. And by this time, the administration had reduced its request to $25 billion.
But Congress balked at giving the president even that much money, eventually offering him a measly $1.3 billion that was to be used only for “primary pedestrian fencing” and “secondary fencing” to back up existing fencing.
Before the budget bill arrived at the White House for his signature, it was unclear if Trump would sign it. Yet sign it he did, arguing that if he vetoed the bill, it would jeopardize the huge increase in new defense spending.
Yet, soon after he signed the bill, Trump told a group of Baltic leaders at a White House meeting April 3 that “We’ve started building the wall.”
Incredibly, despite budget language prohibiting the wall, Trump began telling others that the wall was being built anyway, the Washington Post’s “fact checker,” Glenn Kessler, reported this week.
“On March 28, he even tweeted photographs and declared: ‘Great briefing this afternoon on the start of our Southern Border WALL!’” Kessler writes.
“On March 30, he told a rally in Ohio that “you saw those beautiful pictures. ... We started building our wall. I’m so proud of it. We started. We started. We have $1.6 billion, and we’ve already started.”
In fact, what Trump had seen during a tour in California in March were mere prototypes of a concrete wall, not an actual wall along the border.
Indeed, the language in the appropriations bill he signed into law specifically makes clear that “None of the $1.57 billion appropriated for border protection may be used for those prototypes,” Kessler reported.
Is this a case of Trump inventing his own reality, or a failure on the part of his senior advisers to thoroughly brief him on the budget bill’s contents?
When Trump met with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in 2016 during a campaign trip to Mexico City to discuss the wall, Trump told reporters their discussion was “substantive, direct and constructive.”
“We discussed the wall,” he said after meeting privately with Pena Nieto. “We didn’t discuss payment of the wall.”
But in a tweet following the event, Pena Nieto said that he made it clear to Trump that “Mexico will not pay for the wall — and that the two went on to other topics afterward,” according to a report filed by CBS News.
Trump continued to insist Mexico would foot the bill for the wall until he was sworn into office, when he asked Congress for the money as he had intended to do all along.
There’s a famous remark about political chicanery — often attributed to Abraham Lincoln — that says: “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.”
Donald Lambro has been covering Washington politics for more than 50 years as a reporter, editor and commentator.