When Donald Trump began his run for the White House, he put building a wall with Mexico at the heart of his campaign. ‘I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words’, he cried after gliding down his golden escalator way back in June 2015. Mark his words indeed. For while the wall is still very much the backbone of his plans for government all the indications are that he will use a rather more prosaic form of funding to achieve it, using the standard Congressional appropriations procedures rather than a brazen cross-border raid.
House Republicans have begun preparing the ground. On Thursday they began briefing that using existing legislation and conventional sources of money would be the fastest way to get on with the work. That’s all very well, but what about those heaving call and response sessions where Trump asked his heaving rallies ‘Who’s going to pay for the wall?’ to be answered with 10,000 voices shouting back: ‘Mexico’.
Once again Trump looks like he has managed to pull off another U-turn before he is even installed in the Oval Office. Other audience favourites – ‘Lock her up’ – have already been ditched. It is all part of pattern. Make a bold statement, milk the headlines for as long as you like and then move on, forgetting any sort of promise was ever made in the first place. It is set out in his 1987 memoir The Art of the Deal and explains almost all you need to know about Donald Trump’s way of doing things. Take this extract:
One thing I’ve learned about the press is that they’re always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better. It’s in the nature of the job, and I understand that.
Today it is even more powerful. And all the more potent when applied to politics of the 21st century kind. Elections aren’t decided much on policies, facts or debating points. They are won on feelings, emotions and atmospheres. Given the voters something to believe in, a cause, an identity. Make them pick your side. In this type of politics pledges are the means to that end not the end themselves.
Barack Obama won in 2008 because he carefully constructed a brand of liberal politics that remained vague enough to allow voters to project all their hopes and dreams on to his blank canvas. They wanted to signal a change of tack from George W Bush. So it doesn’t matter that he failed to close Guantanamo Bay and didn’t bring all the soldiers home from Afghanistan, his liberal supporters still say they were proud again to be American.
That is the lesson that Trump seems to instinctively understand. So it doesn’t matter if he lets Hillary off the hook, or he goes one way and then other on abortion. And it doesn’t matter if in the end American taxpayers pay for the wall. Maybe the wall won’t even be needed in the end. Critics will cry flip flop while Trump launches another lap of honour.