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As his boasts are debunked, Trump gets defensive over border-wall failure

President Donald Trump talks with reporters as he reviews border wall prototypes, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in San Diego.
President Donald Trump talks with reporters as he reviews border wall prototypes, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in San Diego.

Donald Trump's claims about a border wall are among his strangest lies. For months, the president has insisted that he and his administration have expanded a physical barrier along the U.S./Mexico border, and those rascally fact-checkers who say otherwise are not to be believed.

The Republican has even instructed his followers at various rallies to stop chanting, "Build the wall," and start chanting, "Finish the wall." Implicit in the directions is the idea that Trump has already made great progress in completing his goal.

In reality, he hasn't. The Washington Examiner, a conservative online outlet, reported over the weekend that the administration "has not installed a single mile of new wall in a previously fenceless part of the U.S.-Mexico border in the 30 months since President Trump assumed office."

The Examiner added, "In a statement last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the federal agency overseeing border barrier construction, confirmed that all the fencing completed since Trump took office is 'in place of dilapidated designs' because the existing fence was in need of replacement."

It's not complicated: old barriers have, in some cases, been replaced with new barriers, but the parts of the border in which there was no structure separating the two countries haven't changed since Trump took office.

And that's apparently led the president to try to move the goalposts a bit. Here was his tweet on the subject last night:

"When we rip down and totally replace a badly broken and dilapidated Barrier on the Southern Border, something which cannot do the job, the Fake News Media gives us zero credit for building a new Wall. We have replaced many miles of old Barrier with powerful new Walls!"

And this was the follow-up this morning:

"When an old Wall at the Southern Border, that is crumbling and falling over, built in an important section to keep out problems, is replaced with a brand new 30 foot high steel and concrete Wall, the Media says no new Wall has been built. Fake News! Building lots of Wall!"

Trump is playing a tiresome little game in which he wants to apply his own creative definition of the word "wall" -- and the word "new."

In a way, this represents a rhetorical shift for the president. The Republican usually prefers to play make-believe, telling the public that he's made great progress on completing his wall dream. Now, however, Trump is doing his best to sell Americans on the idea replacement barriers and "new wall" are the same thing.

Let's make this plain: the U.S./Mexico border is 1,954 miles long. As the New York Times reported earlier this year, by the time of Trump's inauguration in January 2017, there were 654 miles of physical barriers along the border.

That number hasn't changed.

I can appreciate why the president is frustrated, and probably a bit embarrassed, about his failure to deliver on his signature campaign promise. But reality is stubborn, and facts aren't "fake."