Trump struggles to defend lie about Mexico 'paying for the wall'

Trump claims to have yet another idea to get Mexico to pay for a border wall. In reality, it's a fresh con, intended to take the place of an old con.
United State Border Patrol chief Rodney Scott gives President Donald Trump a tour of a section of the border wall in San Luis, Ariz., on June 23, 2020.
United State Border Patrol chief Rodney Scott gives President Donald Trump a tour of a section of the border wall in San Luis, Ariz., on June 23, 2020.Evan Vucci / AP

At a campaign event in Pennsylvania in early September, Donald Trump told his followers, "Mexico will be paying for the wall, and I say it respectfully to Mexico, but they will be paying for the wall."

As regular readers may recall, the president changed the tense a week later in North Carolina: Trump didn't just say Mexico would eventually pay for a giant border barrier; the Republican suggested our neighboring country is already paying for it. "Mexico is paying for the wall, just so you understand," the president bragged. "[Journalists] don't say that. They never say it."

Of course, journalists "never say it" because it's not true.

But the line has nevertheless become a staple of nearly every Trump rally since, with the incumbent insisting, over and over again, that Mexico really is financing wall construction, reality be damned. But when the president makes the claim at a campaign event, there are no follow-up questions, which made it all the more notable when Trump repeated the line yesterday during an interview with Sinclair Media's Eric Bolling.

Here was the president's increasingly predictable boast from yesterday afternoon:

"Mexico's paying for the wall, by the way, just in case you had any question. Mexico is paying for the wall."

Bolling, naturally, asked the obvious follow-up question: "How?" as in, "How is Mexico going to pay for the wall?" The president literally ignored the question and kept talking about how impressed he is with the unnecessary endeavor.

So, the host explored the matter further. "Are we talking some sort of tariff with Mexico?" Bolling asked.

"We're talking about fees," Trump replied. "Going into Mexico. Yes, we are."

The Sinclair host, apparently hoping to clarify matters, responded, "Fees to enter..." at which point the president, acting as if he was actually explaining the substance of the issue, quickly interjected, "Roads. Roads. Yes."

For those who may need a refresher, let's circle back to our earlier coverage and review how we arrived at this point.

Trump and his campaign team didn't invest too much energy into a policy platform in 2016, but they were willing to issue a brief document explaining how and why Mexico would pay for a giant border wall. The document said it would be "an easy decision" for Mexican officials to make: our neighbors to the south would agree to a "one-time payment" of between $5 billion and $10 billion to the United States, and the GOP administration would apply the expenditure to a wall.

This position paper, incidentally, is still publicly available on Trump's website.

The "one-time payment" plan never really made sense, and after the president took office, it quietly went away. But the idea that Mexico would pay for a wall remained the Republican's position for much of his presidency, though Trump's posture has shifted repeatedly.

At various times in recent years, Trump has said the Mexican government would pay for the wall, Americans would pay the wall, the U.S. military would pay for the wall, the wall would pay for the wall, and an overhauled NAFTA would pay for the wall. My personal favorite came in earlier this year, when the president insisted "redemption money" from "illegal aliens" would pay for the wall -- despite the fact that no one, even now, seems to know what "redemption money" is.

Last month, Trump pointed to, "you know, the toll booths" as a source of revenue to finance border barriers. Now, he thinks "fees" -- and something related to "roads" -- will pay for a wall.

At this point, I'd love to write about the merits (or lack thereof) behind such an idea, but to call this an "idea" is itself too generous. Which fees? To be paid by whom? When? How would the fees be administered? If it's American companies and travelers paying the fees, would it really count as Mexico "paying for the wall"? Since these fees don't currently exist, what makes Trump believe Mexico is already financing construction?

All of this serves as a reminder that the current president just says stuff. There's no real forethought or policy planning; he just blurts out random thoughts that he thinks will help get him through the day.

Given the context, Trump is probably embarrassed -- at least to the extent that it's possible for him to feel shame -- that he made such a fuss about Mexico paying for a border wall, and then failed spectacularly to follow through on his high-profile promise. As Election Day draws closer, he can't very well say, "I blew it," so he's scrambling to throw together a pseudo-plan that sounds plausible.

Or put another way, it's a fresh con, intended to take the place of an old con. No one should be fooled.