View of the U.S. - Mexico border wall on November 19, 2014 in Calexico, California.
Sandy Huffaker/Getty

The politics of Trump's border wall start to catch up with him

Donald Trump declared with pride last week, "The wall is getting designed right now." The president was referring, of course, to his administration's proposed border wall between the United States and Mexico -- one of Trump's signature campaign issues -- which the president says he fully intends to pursue.

The boast was, however, almost certainly untrue. Before a federal infrastructure project reaches the design phase, there are all kinds of procedural hurdles that need to be cleared, and with the dubious project still in the rhetorical starting blocks, it's implausible to think the wall is already "getting designed."

No, Mr. President, drawing a big rectangle on the back of a cocktail napkin doesn't count as a "design."

Of course, before the blueprint of such a project can take shape, officials will need to have some sense of cost, and a Reuters report on Friday put a striking price tag on Trump's wall.

President Donald Trump's "wall" along the U.S.-Mexico border would be a series of fences and walls that would cost as much as $21.6 billion, and take more than three years to construct, based on a U.S. Department of Homeland Security internal report seen by Reuters on Thursday.

The report's estimated price-tag is much higher than a $12-billion figure cited by Trump in his campaign and estimates as high as $15 billion from Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.... The report is expected to be presented to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly in coming days, although the administration will not necessarily take actions it recommends.

A Politico report, citing estimates from Capitol Hill sources, added that some lawmakers believe the price "could be as high as $50 billion when all is said and done."

For his part, Donald Trump isn't denying the reports, so much as he's arguing that his magical negotiating abilities will change the calculus.

"I am reading that the great border WALL will cost more than the government originally thought," the president tweeted over the weekend, now arbitrarily capitalizing words he considers important, "but I have not gotten involved in the design or negotiations yet." He added that the price "will come WAY DOWN."

First, if you think Trump is a great negotiator, ask China. You'll get an informative answer.

Second, Trump's usual way of lowering costs on building projects is to hire contractors and then refuse to pay them what they're owed. Someone should probably let the president know that won't work this time.

And third, I'm not even sure why Trump would make such a promise. If, in his mind, Mexico is going to finance the whole project anyway, why would the president even bother trying to reduce the price? Since when does he consider it a priority to save Mexico money?

In the meantime, congressional Republicans still aren't sold on the border-wall idea -- congressional Democrats are already convinced it's ridiculous -- and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly recently said in an interview that part of the wall won't be an actual wall, but will instead "rely on sensors and other technology."

Of course, relying on sensors and other technology is part of the status quo, which Trump inaccurately describes as an open, unguarded border.