Trump sounds just like a right-wing talk-radio host

Talk radio has President Trump’s back. “Where does it say in the Constitution that if Washington’s establishment doesn’t like the results of a presidential election, they get to do whatever they want to do to overturn them?” asked the broadcast king, Rush Limbaugh, after the House formalized its impeachment inquiry in October. “They have been trying to get rid of Donald Trump under false, lying premises since election night.” Mark Levin claimed that several of the witnesses testifying in the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings “exposed themselves as part of a cabal.”

To these radio hosts, Trump’s voters are the ones who are really under attack: “He’s a surrogate for their hatred for us,” said Limbaugh. Given this robust defense, it’s not surprising that Trump regularly retweets or quotes hosts like LimbaughLevin and Laura Ingraham.

But there’s more to these apologetics than the fact that right-wing talk radio hosts agree with the president’s views. Trump sounds just like them. Reality TV may have enshrined his celebrity, but Trump’s tone, his concerns and his willingness to shock people are most at home on the radio waves during rush hour.

He calls the House investigation “The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!” and a “hoax.” He asserts without evidence that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is “a corrupt politician and a criminal” and that Republicans are dealing with “human scum.”

It’s rants like these — which mimic what millions of conservative Americans consume on the airwaves — that have helped Trump build and cement a durable bond with these voters. This relationship might prove to be the president’s political salvation, propelling him not only past impeachment but maybe even to a second term.

When Trump declared his candidacy in 2015, reporters and analysts of all political stripes dismissed him as a sideshow. Not only did he lack political experience, but he kept saying things that politicians just weren’t allowed to say. One astute observer thought otherwise: Limbaugh. He said he and his producer were “laughing ourselves silly” during Trump’s announcement speech, but he also presciently observed: “This is gonna resonate with a lot of people, I guarantee you, and the Drive-Bys” — Limbaugh’s term for mainstream journalists — “are gonna pooh-pooh it. They’re gonna relegate it to the carnival characteristics of the campaign and so forth, but it’s gonna resonate, just like [1992 and 1996 presidential candidate Ross] Perot did.”

How did Limbaugh know that Trump’s message would connect? Maybe because a lot of what the candidate said sounded like his show. The most controversial line in Trump’s campaign announcement speech was his assertion that Mexico was sending the United States “rapists” and others who brought drugs and crime with them. This claim horrified many Americans. But later that summer, after Trump was pushed on the point during the first Republican primary debate, Limbaugh defended himarguing: “You know, they try to dump on Trump, demand proof from him that the Mexican government is knowingly sending rapists, murderers and purse snatchers, and this kind of thing. They are! It’s something I know full well. We’ve had the stories. We’ve done them on this program.” And indeed, he had: For more than a decade, Limbaugh had been railing about “violent criminals” that “countries like Mexico” were “unwilling to take back.” To Limbaugh and his audience, Trump was showing a refreshing willingness to tell uncomfortable truths that Republican politicians shy away from because they are afraid of offending liberal sensibilities or being accused of bigotry.

Stylistically, Trump is far more talk-radio host than buttoned-down politician. For instance, he employs snarky nicknames to rip the mainstream media. While Levin bemoans the “Washington Compost” and “MSLSD,” Trump lashes out at the “Failing New York Times,” “Deface the Nation” and “Very Low Ratings” CNN.

The extreme rhetoric Trump uses, especially on immigration, has long been a staple of talk radio (and other conservative media, like Fox News and Breitbart). During the 2007 debate over bipartisan immigration reform, Limbaugh warned that the Senate bill would “fundamentally, and perhaps permanently, alter American society for the worse.” Fellow talker Michael Savage said then-Senate Republican leader Trent Lott (Miss.) was engaged in “gansterism” after Lott compained about talk-radio hosts.

Seven years later, when Republican House Speaker John Boehner revealed his principles for immigration reform, Limbaugh exploded again. To him, the push to admit immigrants who, he claimed, saw the United States as “no place special” was one more part of the left’s campaign to degrade America. Liberals were teaching young Americans in public schools, he said, “not only not to love the country, but they’re being lied to about how the country was founded, why it was founded, who founded it and what its purpose is.” And now, with immigration reform, Limbaugh fumed, the Republican Party wanted “the end of the country as we know it.” While Ingraham admitted in 2014 that she personally liked Boehner, she, too, declared that what he was doing on immigration was “a nightmare. It is political suicide both for the free market and ultimately for small-government conservatism.”

What enraged hosts and listeners the most was that, instead of going to war to defeat such dangerous ideas, establishment Republicans like Boehner were proposing them and trying to punish the few courageous conservatives who dared to fight back. That’s what happened to Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) in 2015 when he voted against a procedural rule on a trade bill that would have given President Barack Obama authority to negotiate deals faster. Leadership’s attempt to punish Meadows enraged Levin, who called Boehner a “fool” and a “moron” and demanded: “We need a new Republican Party that’s principled, that’s conservative, that believes in America. Not this crap that goes on inside the Beltway.”

Listening to talk radio, it was clear that many of the people in right-wing audiences wanted this sort of fire from politicians, too. But they had concluded that most Republican politicians were too weak or too interested in currying favor in the clubby world of Washington to adequately battle Democrats. Later that summer, after analysts panned Trump’s performance in the first Republican debate, a Limbaugh caller named Chris epitomized this sentiment, explaining that pundits underestimated the anger of Republicans like him toward their party. These voters felt “almost betrayed.” To Chris, instead of two parties arrayed against each other, “like Republican versus Democrat,” it was “almost like two versions of one party, and the other side is the outsiders that aren’t part of it.”

This belief created fertile ground for Trump: His blunt calls to build a border wall, his willingness to sneer at norms dictating what he couldn’t say or do, and his instinct to punch back at critics thrilled conservatives who had been looking for a pugilistic politician who sounded like their favorite warriors on the airwaves.

And far from becoming more presidential after winning office, Trump has continued to shred norms, sticking to the sort of rhetoric more commonly found on talk radio than in the White House — especially on his Twitter feed. A New York Times analysis last month revealed that between Inauguration Day in 2017 and early this November, Trump had attacked someone or something in 5,889 tweets, while 1,710 tweets promoted conspiracy theories, also common on conservative airwaves. The impeachment inquiry has turned the president’s Twitter feed positively molten: He has labeled Schiff “sick and suggested that the chairman be arrested for treason. He has dubbed Democrats a “disgrace” and questioned their sanity. Like the radio hosts, he has called the impeachment investigation “bulls—,” a “coup” intended to take away people’s “freedoms.” He has demanded that lawmakers such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) be impeached (which isn’t constitutionally possible) and even endorsed the theory that his removal might lead to a “Civil War like fracture.”

To Trump’s base, rather than being unpresidential or dangerous, this rhetoric proves he’s a fighter willing to tell inconvenient truths and take on their burden — just as hosts like Limbaugh, Levin and Ingraham have for decades. Listeners believe that their values — such as a belief in traditional nuclear families and gender roles, patriotism, religiosity and economic freedom from government intrusion — which they see as crucial to American greatness, are under attack. And Trump has the power, the megaphone and the willingness to battle back against a cruel and intolerant liberal establishment that increasingly dominates society, no matter the firestorm he creates. As long as he’s doing that, his base isn’t going to let him be destroyed by the forces seeking to cripple the country they love.

Smugglers are sawing through new sections of Trump’s border wall

Smuggling gangs in Mexico have repeatedly sawed through new sections of President Trump’s border wall in recent months by using commercially available power tools, opening gaps large enough for people and drug loads to pass through, according to U.S. agents and officials with knowledge of the damage.

The breaches have been made using a popular cordless household tool known as a reciprocating saw that retails at hardware stores for as little as $100. When fitted with specialized blades, the saws can slice through one of the barrier’s steel-and-concrete bollards in minutes, according to the agents, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the barrier-defeating techniques.

After cutting through the base of a single bollard, smugglers can push the steel out of the way, creating an adult-size gap. Because the bollards are so tall — and are attached only to a panel at the top — their length makes them easier to push aside once they have been cut and are left dangling, according to engineers consulted by The Washington Post.

The taxpayer-funded barrier — so far coming with a $10 billion price tag — was a central theme of Trump’s 2016 campaign, and he has made the project a physical symbol of his presidency, touting its construction progress in speeches, ads and tweets. Trump has increasingly boasted to crowds in recent weeks about the superlative properties of the barrier, calling it “virtually impenetrable” and likening the structure to a “Rolls-Royce” that border crossers cannot get over, under or through.

The smuggling crews have been using other techniques, such as building makeshift ladders to scale the barriers, especially in the popular smuggling areas in the San Diego area, according to nearly a dozen U.S. agents and current and former administration officials.

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Mexican criminal organizations, which generate billions of dollars in smuggling profits, have enormous incentive to adapt their operations at the border to new obstacles and enforcement methods, officials say.

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The U.S. government has not disclosed the cutting incidents and breaches, and it is unclear how many times they have occurred. U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to provide information about the number of breaches, the location of the incidents and the process for repairing them. Matt Leas, a spokesman for the agency, declined to comment, and CBP has not yet fulfilled a Freedom of Information Act request seeking data about the breaches and repairs. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the private contractors building the barrier, referred inquires to CBP.

One senior administration official, who was not authorized to discuss the breaches but spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they amounted to “a few instances” and that the new barrier fencing had “significantly increased security and deterrence” along sections of the border in CBP’s San Diego and El Centro sectors in California.

Current and former CBP officials confirmed that there have been cutting breaches, but they said the new bollard system remains far superior and more formidable than any previous design.

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Some of the damage has happened in areas where construction crews have yet to complete the installation of electronic sensors that, once operational, will more quickly detect the vibrations that sawing produces on the bollards, the officials said. They also said one of the main advantages of the steel bollard system — which stands between 18 and 30 feet tall — is that damaged panels can be repaired or replaced easily.

Workers install panels of steel bollard fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. (Nick Miroff/The Washington Post)
Workers install panels of steel bollard fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. (Nick Miroff/The Washington Post)

Ronald Vitiello, the former U.S. Border Patrol chief who was acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement until his removal in April, characterized the breaches as “poking and prodding” by cartel smuggling crews.

“The cartels will continue to innovate, and they’re not just going to leave San Diego because the wall gets better,” Vitiello said. “That’s life on the border.

Vitiello, who helped oversee the development of barrier prototypes in 2017, said the administration could have added better deterrent features if Democrats in Congress had provided more funding.

“The bollards are not the most evolved design; they are the most evolved that we could pay for,” Vitiello said. “We never said they would be an end-all, be-all.”

In the San Diego area, smugglers have figured out how to cut the bollards and return them to their original positions, disguising the breaches in the hope that they will go unnoticed and can be reused for repeated passage. Agents said they have learned to drive along the base of the structure looking for subtle defects, testing the metal by kicking the bollards with their boots.

If damage is detected, welding crews are promptly sent to make fixes. The smugglers, however, have returned to the same bollards and cut through the welds, agents say, because the metal is softer and the concrete at the core of the bollard already has been compromised. The smugglers also have tried to trick agents by applying a type of putty with a color and texture that resembles a weld, making a severed bollard appear intact.

Agents in California and Texas said smuggling teams have been using improvised ladders to go up and over the barriers, despite the risk of injury or death from falling; the tallest barriers are approximately the height of a three-story building. Some of the smugglers deploy lightweight ladders made of rebar, using them to get past the “anti-climb panels” that span the top of the barrier.

Once the lead climber reaches the top, agents say, they use hooks to hang rope ladders down the other side.

The rebar ladders are popular because the metal support rods are inexpensive and are skinny enough to pass through the four-inch gaps between the bollards, making it possible for the smuggling teams to use them to scale the secondary row of fencing, according to agents. Rebar, easily purchased at hardware stores, typically is used within concrete as reinforcement.

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Trump initially wanted to build a concrete wall along the length of the border but was talked out of it by Homeland Security officials who said the bollard system is a superior design because it allows agents to see through to the other side.

“Frankly, an all-concrete wall would have been a much less expensive wall to build,” Trump said in September during a visit to new sections of the barrier in San Diego. “But from the standpoint of Border Patrol, they were very much opposed to it.”

As he left the White House for Andrews Air Force Base en route to New York on Saturday, Trump was asked if he was concerned about smugglers cutting through the new wall.

“I haven’t heard that,” Trump said. “We have a very powerful wall. But no matter how powerful, you can cut through anything, in all fairness. But we have a lot of people watching. You know cutting, cutting is one thing, but it’s easily fixed. One of the reasons we did it the way we did it, it’s very easily fixed. You put the chunk back in.”

CBP officials also have consistently said that no single structure, regardless of its design, can seal the border on its own. Rather, they have advocated for a “border wall system” that combines physical barriers, surveillance technology and the rapid deployment of agents to stop border crossers and attempted breaches.

“There’s no one silver bullet, and we’ve done our best to try to explain that,” said Chris Harris, a retired Border Patrol agent in San Diego. “You’re always going to have to have boots on the ground. That’s why there are armed police officers at Fort Knox.”

Smugglers with reciprocating saws were able to cut through previous versions of the barrier in far less time, agents note, and the new bollard design makes the smugglers’ task significantly more difficult. Other Homeland Security officials note that the narrow gap created by a cut bollard permits only one person to pass through at a time, making it more difficult for large groups of migrants or smugglers to cross.

Because CBP is adding double-layer barriers in high-traffic areas such as San Diego, smugglers seek out locations where the distance between the primary and secondary fences is narrowest. A sawing crew will cut at a bollard while lookouts watch for U.S. agents, so the smuggling team can run back into Mexico if authorities arrive. Once the agents leave, the smugglers can resume their sawing in the same place.

“What happens any time some barrier is thrown up in front of a business is they adapt, and that’s all they’re trying to do,” said Joshua Wilson, a Border Patrol agent and union official in San Diego.

The San Diego area is one of the most lucrative for narcotics smugglers or those bringing in migrants, who are willing to pay thousands of dollars apiece to reach the United States. Mexican deportees with homes and jobs on the U.S. side of the border are among some of the best-paying customers because they often have assets and are desperate to return.

The Trump administration commissioned some border barrier prototypes in 2017, and among the tests CBP conducted were the structures’ resilience against breaching with reciprocating saws, according to federal contracting documents and testing reports. At the time, CBP agents said that no single design could be completely impenetrable, but the agency determined that steel bollards could not be cut easily without the use of “multiple power tools.”

Sections of fencing rest between the border barriers that separate the United States and Mexico in the San Diego area. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)
Sections of fencing rest between the border barriers that separate the United States and Mexico in the San Diego area. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

San Diego broadcaster KPBS, which reported on the prototype tests in 2018, obtained heavily redacted copies of the test results through FOIA requests. The reports showed that all of the designs the Trump administration evaluated in 2017 were found to be vulnerable to breaching methods.

NBC News subsequently published images of steel bollards that were cut during the prototype tests and showed the photographs to the president. “That’s a wall designed by previous administrations,” Trump said.

The version of the barrier being installed is based on the same bollard design, which the president calls “steel slats.” It features six-inch-thick square bollards with a steel exterior that is three-sixteenths of an inch and a core filled with commercial-grade 5,000-pound concrete that is strengthened with rebar.

Kevin Trumble, a professor of materials engineering at Purdue University, and Srinivasan Chandrasekar, a professor of industrial engineering at Purdue, said a skilled operator with a reciprocating saw would be able to cut through the structure and that a severed bollard could be pushed out of the way using a standard car jack.

The engineers said other lithium battery tools could also be used to cut the steel and concrete. “You could use another device, like an abrasive saw, that would go even faster, but they create sparks because they operate at a high speed,” Chandrasekar said.

The engineers estimated that it would take someone 20 minutes or less to cut through a bollard if a team worked in pairs with two saws. The crews might go through multiple blades to complete a cut, the engineers said, but the blades can be changed quickly to resume sawing.

Online video demonstrations of reciprocating saws show that commercially available diamond grit and tungsten carbide blades are capable of slicing through thick pieces of steel and concrete in significantly less time. One toothy, hardened blade that is particularly adept at cutting metal — the Diablo Steel Demon — can be seen zipping through a trailer hitch in less than 20 seconds.

Diablo brand promotional videos show carbide “extreme metal cutting” blades easily sawing through rebar, angle iron, steel pipes and steel plate that is three-eighths of an inch. The blades sell for between $10 and $15 at hardware stores and online. Diamond grit blades, which retail for slightly more, are used widely for cutting through steel, concrete and other materials.

The Trump administration has so far completed 76 miles of new barriers, all of it in areas like San Diego where the structure has replaced older, shorter and, in some cases, dilapidated fencing.

An additional 158 miles of barrier are under construction, according to CBP, and the agency said 276 miles are in a “preconstruction” phase.

The administration is on track to complete 450 miles of barriers by the end of next year, CBP acting commissioner Mark Morgan said last week. The latest construction data obtained by The Post show that the administration has finished just 2 percent of the barrier planned for stretches of border in Texas, where plans call for 166 miles of new fencing. Almost all of that barrier would be built on private land that the government has yet to acquire.

Trump campaigned on a promise to make Mexico pay for construction of the barrier, but nearly $10 billion that his administration has budgeted for the project has been taxpayer money from U.S. funding sources, primarily the Defense Department.

Trump visits the border as a section of the barrier is under construction. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)
Trump visits the border as a section of the barrier is under construction. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

A Single Scandal Sums Up All of Trump’s Failures

Many of the tales of controversy to emerge from the Trump administration have been abstract, or complicated, or murky. Whenever anyone warns about destruction of “norms,” the conversation quickly becomes speculative—the harms are theoretical, vague, and in the future.

This makes new Washington Post reporting about President Donald Trump’s border wall especially valuable. The Post writes about how Trump has repeatedly pressured the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Homeland Security to award a contract for building a wall at the southern U.S. border to a North Dakota company headed by a leading Republican donor.

The story demonstrates the shortcomings of Trump’s attempt to bring private-sector techniques into government. It shows his tendency toward cronyism, his failures as a negotiator, and the ease with which a fairly primitive attention campaign can sway him. At heart, though, what it really exemplifies is Trump’s insistence on placing performative gestures over actual efficacy. And it is a concrete example—almost literally—of how the president’s violations of norms weaken the country and waste taxpayer money.

The Post reports:

In phone calls, White House meetings and conversations aboard Air Force One during the past several months, Trump has aggressively pushed Dickinson, N.D.-based Fisher Industries to Department of Homeland Security leaders and Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, the commanding general of the Army Corps, according to the administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal discussions.

It may be a not-very-subtle sign of the frustration in the Army that the news leaked to the Post the same day that Semonite was called to the White House and Trump once again pressed him.*

Trump administration will hire Cuccinelli for senior DHS border role

The Trump administration will hire conservative firebrand and former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli II to coordinate immigration policy at the Department of Homeland Security, three administration officials said Tuesday.

Cuccinelli will work at DHS in a senior role and will report to acting DHS secretary Kevin ­McAleenan, while also providing regular briefings to President Trump at the White House, according two officials briefed on the appointment.

.. Cuccinelli, who has been hawkish on immigration policy during television appearances that also praise Trump, appears to fulfill the president’s desire to have a forceful personality and a loyalist at the highest levels of DHS. But his arrival risks new instability at the agency, coming six weeks after Trump ousted Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and replaced her with McAleenan, a long-serving official who was confirmed by the Senate last year as commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and who is one of the few administration figures who retains a favorable reputation with lawmakers from both parties.

Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank whose immigration-reduction agenda has had significant influence in the White House, called Cuccinelli “an unusual choice.”

He doesn’t have any immigration experience, but he does have law enforcement experience,” said Krikorian, who said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the appointment would make a difference. The crucial factor, he predicted, would be access to the White House.

“If he does not answer directly to the president, he’s not likely to be able to get much done,” he said.

.. The White House offered the job to Cuccinelli after it was turned down by Tom Homan, the former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to two officials. Trump also soured weeks ago on Kris Kobach, the Kansas Republican favored by immigration restrictionist groups, according to one senior administration official.

.. “It is bad news for [McAleenan],” said one senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to provide candid views. “You have someone at the agency that the White House might have in mind to be the next DHS secretary.”

Another former department official predicted Cuccinelli’s lack of authority at the agency and distance from the White House would leave him in a weak position from the outset.

“Putting an immigration czar at DHS is a total waste,” the person said.

The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to inquiries about Cuccinelli’s role. Cuccinelli, who was at the White House on Monday, could not be reached for comment. His expected hiring was first reported by the New York Times.

If the White House is grooming him as a possible replacement for McAleenan, he would face a difficult path to confirmation.

Cuccinelli is deeply disliked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has vowed to block Cuccinelli from any Senate-confirmed post for leading efforts in 2014 backing insurgent candidates that hurt the Senate GOP majority, McConnell advisers said.

Two years ago, Cuccinelli signed a letter drafted by GOP activists calling on McConnell to step down.

When Cuccinelli’s name surfaced last month as a potential Nielsen replacement, McConnell told reporters he’d conveyed his unease to the White House. “I have expressed my, shall I say, lack of enthusiasm for one of them . . . Ken Cuccinelli,” McConnell said.

The Virginia conservative, who has a long record of combative television appearances, is even less popular with Democrats. “This is absurd and outrageous,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) wrote on Twitter. “He doesn’t deserve a taxpayer-funded salary.”

Others more supportive of the move noted that the DHS secretary’s role is challenging enough when there isn’t a migration crisis — and with hurricane season approaching, McAleenan could benefit from a strong personality fully devoted to the border.

In April, more than 100,000 migrants were taken into custody along the U.S.-Mexico border for the second consecutive month, and the numbers in May are on pace to go even higher. McAleenan warned in late March that U.S. agents and infrastructure at the border had hit a “breaking point,” and since then the situation has worsened, leaving holding cells so overcrowded that DHS officials have been transferring migrants out of South Texas by aircraft simply to make room for ever-growing numbers of new arrivals.

Cuccinelli has been a vocal advocate for Trump’s proposed border wall and other measures popular with hard-liners. He has backed constitutional changes to restrict birthright citizenship, urged lawsuits against employers who hire undocumented immigrants and at one point supported denying immigrant workers — including those in the country lawfully — from collecting unemployment benefits if they are fired for not speaking English on the job.

His appointment to DHS has others in the administration worried there will be too many players fighting to establish control over an immigration agenda, with White House adviser Stephen Miller already chafing officials at DHS.

.. One White House adviser said Cuccinelli would advocate for the White House’s aggressive position at the agency. Miller has argued to Trump that others within DHS are trying to stall him.

White House Proposes $4.7 Trillion Budget for Fiscal 2020

Trump’s outline would sharply cut spending on safety-net programs

The Trump administration proposed a $4.7 trillion budget that would sharply reduce spending on safety-net programs, while effectively exempting the Pentagon from strict spending caps set to take effect in fiscal year 2020.

The president’s plan would widen the federal budget deficit to $1.1 trillion in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, and would propose to eliminate the deficit by 2034, in part by assuming the economy grows much faster than many independent forecasters expect.

Why Can’t Trump Build Anything?

Infrastructure won’t happen until the Democrats regain control.

Donald Trump isn’t the first president, or even the first Republican president, who has sought to define his legacy in part with a big construction project. Abraham Lincoln signed legislation providing the land grants and financing that created the transcontinental railroad. Theodore Roosevelt built the Panama Canal. Dwight Eisenhower built the interstate highway system.

But Trump’s wall is different, and not just because it probably won’t actually get built. Previous big construction projects were about bringing people together and making them more productive. The wall is about division — not just a barrier against outsiders, but an attempt to drive a wedge between Americans, too. It’s about fear, not the future.

Why isn’t Trump building anything? Surely he’s exactly the kind of politician likely to suffer from an edifice complex, a desire to see his name on big projects. Furthermore, during the 2016 campaign he didn’t just promise a wall, he also promised a major rebuilding of America’s infrastructure.

But month after month of inaction followed his inauguration. A year ago he again promised “the biggest and boldest infrastructure investment in American history.” Again, nothing happened.

Last month there was reportedly a White House meeting to game outa new infrastructure plan. This time they mean it. Really. Would this administration ever lie to you?

The interesting question is why Trump seems unwilling or unable to do anything about America’s crumbling roads, bridges, water supplies and so on. After all, polls show that a large majority of the public wants to see more infrastructure spending. Public investment is an issue on which Trump could get substantial Democratic support; it would lift the economy, and also help repair the public’s perception that the administration is chaotic and incompetent.

Yet everything points to two more years of occasional bombast about infrastructure, with no follow-up. Why the paralysis?

Some news analyses suggest that it’s about money, that big infrastructure spending would happen if only Republicans and Democrats could agree on how to pay for it. But this is being credulous. Remember, in 2017 the G.O.P. enacted a $2 trillion tax cutwith absolutely no pay-fors; the tax cut is completely failing to deliver the promised boost to private investment, but there is no sign of buyer’s remorse.

So Republicans don’t really care about using debt to pay for things they want. And Democrats, whose top policy wonks have been telling them that deficit fears are excessive, would surely support a program of debt-financed infrastructure spending.

How the Border Wall, Trump’s Signature Campaign Promise, Turned Into a National Emergency

The president’s declaration comes after divisions and competing priorities in the White House allowed the barrier project to languish

President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to build a wall on the U.S. southern border comes after two years of political neglect of his signature campaign promise, lost amid competing priorities and divisions within his administration, according to current and former White House officials, lawmakers and congressional staffers.

Mr. Trump on Friday said the move would allow him to supplement the $1.38 billion allotted for border barriers in the spending package approved by Congress—far short of the $5.7 billion Mr. Trump wanted. “We’re talking about an invasion of our country,” Mr. Trump said speaking from the Rose Garden in urgent terms familiar during his campaign.

The wall’s reemergence as a top priority within the White House came after the Republican Party’s loss of the House in November’s midterm election, and after goading from conservative media kept Mr. Trump focused on the border wall, current and former White House officials said.

It wasn’t until December, as some government offices entered a 35-day shutdown amid the fight over wall funding, that Mr. Trump assembled a team of advisers devoted to getting it built. They turned out to be a divided group.

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, pushed for a broader deal with Democrats to provide protections for some immigrants living in the U.S. without permission, while Vice President Mike Pence sought to limit the scope of the negotiations. Mr. Kushner cautioned the president about issuing a national emergency order; Mick Mulvaney, newly installed as acting chief of staff, pressed for it.

Mr. Trump’s first-term wins had clear leaders: Former economic adviser Gary Cohn delivered on tax cuts. Former White House counsel Don McGahn shepherded two Supreme Court nominations onto the High Court, and Mr. Kushner is credited with pushing a criminal-justice overhaul that reduced prison sentences on some drug convictions.

The wall project had no such director. Last summer, a White House official seeking a senior aide in charge of the border wall was sent to Doug Fears, a deputy to national security adviser John Bolton. Mr. Fears, a rear admiral in the U.S. Coast Guard, is neither a senior administration official nor in charge of border-wall issues, a spokesman said.

By then, frustration was setting in with the president, and in August, he asked Mr. Mulvaney about declaring a national emergency. “You know, that makes a lot of sense,” Mr. Mulvaney told him. The then-budget director started working on plans, which were only finalized last week, according to a senior White House official.

“Easy”

As a candidate in 2016, Mr. Trump described building the wall as a simple job. He tied it to his identity as a builder, a career that dates to the 1960s when he joined his father’s real-estate company. As the author of “The Art of the Deal,” Mr. Trump put his reputation as a negotiator on the line.

As Mr. Trump prepares for re-election—and for voters to scrutinize his record as president—he has adjusted his message. “If you think it’s easy with these people, it’s not easy,” Mr. Trump said, referring to Congress, during a rally last summer in West Virginia.
.. Another early advocate of the wall was Stephen K. Bannon, the Trump campaign’s chief executive who became Mr. Trump’s top strategist and senior counselor. The promise to build a wall “and eventually make Mexico pay for it” was written on a dry erase board in Mr. Bannon’s West Wing office, competing for attention among other campaign promises. It was one of more than four dozen pledges on the white board, organized by policy area.

On another office wall, Mr. Bannon listed the goals for Mr. Trump’s first 100 days in office, listed on 36 pages of computer paper taped together. The legislative agenda included the “End Illegal Immigration Act,” proposed legislation that would have made the wall a priority. It was never introduced.

The project was made tougher without a supportive constituency in Washington to pressure lawmakers. Labor unions don’t view the border wall as a job stimulus, and business didn’t see clear benefits to the bottom line.

“The mistake they made was not coming in right away and coming up with a plan,” said Tom Davis, a Republican former House lawmaker. “You wonder why they didn’t try to jam this through when Republicans controlled the House because it’s a lot more complicated now trying to convince Nancy Pelosi.”

In the first weeks of the Trump administration, Mr. Kushner raised tensions inside the West Wing when he entertained suggestions by Democratic lawmakers to secure wall money in exchange for supporting protections for immigrants protected under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

Mr. Kushner and Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative, also left some West Wing aides with the impression that the president should put the wall on hold while renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

.. Messers. Kushner and Cohn later suggested outfitting the wall with solar panels, and possibly selling the energy to Mexico. The president loved the idea so much he adopted it as his own.
.. Advisers suggested that Mexico would indirectly pay for the wall through a renegotiated Nafta. The revised trade deal, which hasn’t been approved by Congress, includes no language about a border wall.

In March, Congress completed a $1.3 trillion spending package, but included just $1.6 billion for a border barrier, with most of the money intended to replace existing fencing. It banned the money from being spent on concrete slabs or any other of the wall prototypes the White House was considering.

Upset there wasn’t more money for the wall, Mr. Trump threatened to veto it. At an emergency meeting at the White House with his staff and Republican leaders, Mr. Trump learned that the spending bill incorporated all of the border wall money that was requested in the White House budget proposal.

“Who the f— put that in my request?” Mr. Trump shouted.

Mr. Trump directed his fury at Marc Short, then his legislative affairs director, while John Kelly, the former chief of staff was silent. Mr. Kelly was the Department of Homeland Security secretary when the agency made the request for border funds the year before.

Mr. Mulvaney, who assembled the White House’s budget proposal, privately encouraged the president to veto it and suggested Mr. Trump blame then-House Speaker Paul Ryan, who should have sought more wall money.

Mr. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Mr. Trump they would push for more wall money in the next round of spending bills at the end of the year. During the fall, Mr. Trump was energized by crowds chanting “built the wall” during his many midterm-election rallies.

Soon after the November election, it became clear to the White House that lawmakers weren’t interested in a fight over border-wall money. Mr. Trump decided to carry out his threat to close what he could of the U.S. government.

During the shutdown last month, Mr. Trump complained to conservative allies that Mr. Ryan should have pushed harder for wall funds. Last weekend, the president complained about it again during a meeting with a Republican member of the committee that negotiated the latest deal.

“Mr. President,” the Republican lawmaker said, “we gave you everything you asked for.”