Trump needs respect - and a better idea - before he'll get his wall
President Trump's "Great Wall" along the Mexican border is a truly terrible idea.
It would be hugely expensive, costing an estimated $21.6 billion. It would not work. And it would symbolize to the whole world the darkest instinct that surfaces periodically in the American character: xenophobic resentment of foreigners.
The Statue of Liberty promises, "I lift my lamp beside the golden door." The Great Wall threatens to slam that door and smother that lamp. A barrier of despair would replace a beacon of hope.
Trump loves to build monuments to himself, and The Washington Post calls the Great Wall "a pharaonic exercise," a pyramidlike folly with only one purpose: to fulfill an ill-advised campaign pledge that Trump made repeatedly -- and cynically -- to whip his crowds into a fearful frenzy.
"My base definitely wants the border wall," the president told The Associated Press. "You've been to many of the rallies, OK, the thing they want more than anything is the wall."
That's true, and Trump's base remains fiercely loyal. In the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, only 2 percent of Trump voters expressed any regrets at their decision. Ninety-four percent viewed him favorably.
Budget director Mick Mulvaney told The Wall Street Journal that since Trump won the election, he is "entitled to have some of his priorities funded" and that "the wall is one of his top, if not his top, priority."
But the president's pandering to his base shows how badly he's misreading the political climate today. Winning does entitle a president to certain privileges: signing executive orders and making appointments and proposals. It does not entitle him to the "wins" Trump so desperately craves.
To pass legislation, any president has to develop a consensus -- to convince a majority, in Congress and around the country, that his proposals are worthy. And Trump has utterly failed to do that.
After 100 days, Trump is still a minority president. He received 46 percent in the general election. In national polls, his average rating is 42 percent favorable, 53 percent unfavorable -- by far the worst performance by any new president since modern polling began during the Eisenhower years.
While the president's base remains solid, he has failed to expand his appeal beyond his core constituency. In the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 54 percent of independents disapprove of his performance and only 30 percent view him positively. "He risks losing the nation's political middle ground," asserts the Journal.
Trump's problems are even deeper when it comes to the Great Wall. Last November, a Quinnipiac University survey found that 55 percent of voters were opposed to his project. Today, the negatives have shot up to 64 percent, with only one-third supporting the idea.
The Journal reported recently that "not a single member of the House or Senate representing the (border) region," whether Republican or Democrat, supports Trump's request for funding the wall. Even those who favor greater border security don't think the wall will stop anybody, especially the criminal organizations that Trump alleges are polluting the country with narcotics and violence.
"They will go over, through or under physical barriers, sometimes pretty quickly," said Rep. Martha McSally, an Arizona Republican. Rep. Will Hurd, a Texas Republican, described the wall as "the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border."
The opposition doesn't end there. A Washington Post report from Hurd's district says "there are also fears that a physical wall would violate the property rights that Texans hold dear, and be a kick in the gut to a regional economy heavily dependent on cross-border trade."
"It could seriously turn the border into another Rust Belt if we do not take the economic issue more seriously," says Al Arreola Jr., president of the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.
This is why Democrats felt so free to stand up to Trump and forced him to back off demands to include $1.4 billion for the wall in this year's budget. We both covered Congress during the early days of Ronald Reagan's presidency, and Democratic leaders told us frequently: We can't oppose him; we have to work with him. He's too popular.
None of that feeling is present in Washington today. Democrats don't fear or respect President Trump. He still vows to build the wall eventually, but he will not gain the veneration or the victories he hungers for by supporting a project that is not just pharaonic, but moronic -- a tawdry testament to his own ego and his worst impulses.
Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at email@example.com.
© 2017, Universal