Wait, that’s not how the campaign line went. We’re going to build a great big beautiful wall and — who was going to pay for it?
Right, I know: Reimbursement. Mexico’s going to reimburse us. Through NAFTA or something. Okay. Someone should remind border superhawk Ann Coulter of that, as she sounds lately like she’s on the verge of hara-kiri over wall funding.
It’s no secret that Trump was thinking of punting this issue to the Pentagon after he whiffed on getting wall funding in the omnibus spending bill and took a rare beating from his base over it. He tweeted his idea on Sunday:
Because of the $700 & $716 Billion Dollars gotten to rebuild our Military, many jobs are created and our Military is again rich. Building a great Border Wall, with drugs (poison) and enemy combatants pouring into our Country, is all about National Defense. Build WALL through M!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 25, 2018
What’s newsy in this WaPo story is that he’s not just spitballing it on Twitter. He’s pressing the people around him on it, from cabinet heads to Paul Ryan.
In another such interaction with senior aides last week, Trump noted that the Department of Defense was getting so much money as part of the $1.3 trillion spending package that the Pentagon could surely afford the border wall, two White House officials said. The Pentagon received about $700 billion as part of the spending package, which Trump repeatedly lauded as “historic.”…
The Pentagon has plenty of money, but reprogramming it for a wall would require votes in Congress that the president doesn’t seem to have. Taking money from the current 2018 budget for the wall would require an act of Congress, said a senior Pentagon official.
To find the money in the 2019 defense budget Trump would have to submit a budget amendment that would still require 60 votes in the Senate, the official said.
An up-or-down “military money for the wall?” floor vote in the Senate would be fun, although unlikely in the extreme. At first glance Trump would seem to have some leverage. A raft of Democrats are up for reelection in red states this fall, after all. Why not twist their arms on reinforcing the border?
The problem with asking the military to cover the cost, though, is that it makes the counterargument easy: You want to take money away from American soldiers in harm’s way to pay for the farking wall? That argument would be disingenuous insofar as all sectors of American political life understand that there’s enormous waste in the Pentagon’s budget that could be reapplied towards more productive ends, but the politics is what it is. Democrats would balk citing the need to protect the troops and knowing that the wall typically polls poorly in national surveys, reducing the risk that opposing it damage them in the midterms. A few purple-state Republicans might balk too. Trump and McConnell would be at risk of losing that vote outright, a huge embarrassment for the party and the president personally. And if they did, angry Trumpers might throw up their hands, decide that the GOP is useless (fact check: true), and decide not to vote in November.
Plus, a budget amendment on the wall would raise an obvious question: Why didn’t Trump fight harder for wall funding before the omnibus passed? Why did he sign the bill if he’s suddenly so disgusted by it? He’s been “privately grousing that his political supporters could become disenchanted without progress,” notes WaPo, but that should have been obvious to him before it passed. It’s weird that it apparently took some angry tweets from core Trump fans after the fact to alert him that they might be disappointed if he failed again on his core campaign promise. You’re seeing the peril for MAGA supporters here, I think, in his famous remark that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes. He probably believes that, more or less, and usually he’s right to, but it’s a recipe for taking your base for granted. If he thinks they’ll stick with him no matter what, why should he worry about letting them down? That’s why he’s only scrambling now, after the omnibus passed, to undo it. He may be genuinely surprised to see his fans mad at him for anything.
Although that raises another question. Are they mad at him? Or is it just a few famous loudmouths committed to the cause of border enforcement who don’t represent as much of a constituency as they think they do? Go check the scoreboard. It’s been said a million times, completely accurately, that NeverTrumpers are a tiny niche of the party that’s wildly overrepresented in the Republican commentariat. But the Coulters and Tucker Carlsons and Laura Ingrahams of the world, the committed nationalists, may be wildly overrepresented too. Maybe most GOP voters aren’t conservatives or nationalist but Trumpists, that is, they trust Trump to do what’s right regardless of what the policy is. Look at it this way: If MAGA Nation was a sea of hardcore border hawks rather than hardcore Trump followers, why is Trump’s job approval stable and rising after offering a DREAM amnesty for nearly two million people?
It’s nice, though, to see POTUS invoking “national security” to try to solve a problem that really does have some national security implications. The last time he reached for the strongman’s favorite excuse, it was to impose the new steel and aluminum tariffs. Supposedly trade of those items had created a national security problem for the United States, therefore he had to act. That may become his go-to excuse in the years ahead for acting unilaterally, especially if Democrats retake part or all of Congress and bottle up his agenda.
Here’s Coulter unloading on him a few days ago on one of his favorite shows on his favorite network.