It's often difficult to know for sure where Donald Trump's worst ideas come from, but a week ago tonight, Lou Dobbs, one of the president's favorite television personalities, urged Trump to shut down the border between the United States and Mexico. The next morning, the president started promoting the idea on Twitter.
Hours later, at a campaign rally, he escalated the threat. "I am telling you right now, we will close the damn border," Trump said, adding, "It's all very simple. People try and make it too complicated. It's all very simple."
Offered a chance to walk it back a day later, the Republican did the opposite, telling reporters, "Mexico is going to have to do something; otherwise, I'm closing the border." He added on Twitter that the only way Mexico could prevent this would be to "immediately stop ALL illegal immigration coming into the United States throug [sic] our Southern Border."
For reasons no can explain, Trump isn't backing down.
President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he is "100 percent" prepared to shut down the U.S. border with Mexico to block an influx of migrants."If we don't make a deal with Congress, the border's going to be closed," he told reporters in the Oval Office. "100 percent."
At the same White House event, a reporter asked, "Do you worry about the impact on the U.S. economy by closing the border?" Trump replied, "Sure, it's going to have a negative impact on the economy."
A few days ago, the president said closing the border would be "a profit-making operation." Evidently, he no longer believes his own claim.
I realize that at this point in the Trump presidency, much of the public is accustomed to a certain level of foolishness emanating from the White House. It's like a low-level hum that's constantly in the background, serving as a mind-numbing soundtrack to our political lives.
But this story seems a little different.
For one thing, while it's clear Trump is making a major threat, it's not altogether clear exactly whom he's threatening. Late last week, the president said Mexico would have to make him happy or he'd close the border. Yesterday, he said Congress would have to make him happy or he'd close the border. Which is it? I haven't the foggiest idea, and by all appearances, neither does Trump.
For another, there's some question as to who, if anyone, has the president's ear on this. White House aides are reportedly panicking, but there's no reason to assume Trump cares about their guidance. Republican leaders in Congress are pleading with the president to be more responsible, but he's spent much of his term ignoring them, too.
Complicating matters, no one can say with confidence what specific policy goal he thinks he'd achieve by implementing such a radical gambit.
Keep in mind, Trump stumbled into this mess entirely on his own, for no apparent reason, and with no plan for success. Complicating matters, the president has backed himself into a corner: if he follows through on his threat and closes the border, it'll be an economic disaster. If he retreats and fails to close the border, it'll be a political disaster that makes him appear weak.
Asked about the story yesterday, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said, "Until he closes the border, I don't believe it." The line was probably more important that the Iowan realized: even the president's allies work from the assumption that Trump simply makes stuff up and issues hollow threats no one should take seriously.
And that's a dangerous message for this president, already lacking in credibility and having earned a reputation for uncontrollable dishonesty, to send to the world.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday that Trump is "not working on a specific timeline." That wasn't altogether true: the president told reporters he's prepared to close the border this week.
Unless, that is, Trump didn't mean that, either.