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

When it comes to Trump’s vow to build a wall, read the fine print

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke raised a few eyebrows this week, conceding that Donald Trump’s dream building a “big, beautiful wall” along the U.S./Mexico border may face some physical challenges that make the task impossible. The Associated Press reported yesterday:
“The border is complicated, as far as building a physical wall,” [Zinke] said in comments first reported by E&E News. “The Rio Grande, what side of the river are you going to put the wall? We’re not going to put it on our side and cede the river to Mexico. And we’re probably not going to put it in the middle of the river.”
Electronic monitors may be more appropriate in some areas, Zinke said, while areas with imposing natural features may not require additional reinforcements.

I saw some commentary that suggested Zinke was referring to possible plans to build the wall on Mexican soil, since he said we’re not going to put it in the middle of the river, and we’re “not going to put it on our side and cede the river to Mexico.” That leaves the third option of building on the Mexican side, right?

Wrong. What the Interior Secretary was saying was in areas such as these, building a wall simply isn’t a realistic option.

But while these details debunk some of yesterday’s chatter, let’s not brush past Zinke’s assessment too quickly. Donald Trump continues to insist that he really is – no kidding, he really means it – committed to putting a giant, 2,000-mile border wall between American soil and Mexican soil. His administration has even begun inviting bids for the construction, and the White House expects Congress to appropriate some preliminary funding for the project before April 28.

And yet, Trump’s cabinet secretaries are quietly letting the public know that the president’s rhetoric shouldn’t be taken at face value.

Not only did Ryan Zinke concede this week that such a project would run into insurmountable geographic challenges, but Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly recently acknowledged that, as far as he’s concerned, parts of Trump’s wall won’t be an actual wall, but will instead “rely on sensors and other technology.”

In other words, the president looking for a cheap applause line is telling Americans one thing, while the cabinet secretaries tasked with implementing the president’s agenda are telling us something else.