IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Trump tries to explain his signature idea: building 'the wall'

Donald Trump is finally willing to say how he intends to force Mexico to pay for his border wall. The explanation is even worse than one might expect.
Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event in La Crosse, Wis., April 4, 2016. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty)
Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event in La Crosse, Wis., April 4, 2016. 
Donald Trump doesn't have a policy agenda, per se, so much as he has a series of shallow platitudes that far-right voters tend to like. The Republican frontrunner was quite candid in January when he told the New York Times that his rhetoric about building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is convenient catnip for his base.
"You know, if it gets a little boring, if I see people starting to sort of, maybe thinking about leaving, I can sort of tell the audience, I just say, 'We will build the wall!' and they go nuts," the GOP candidate said.
And at a certain level, that's true. If "Yes We Can" was the optimistic mantra that helped propel Barack Obama's candidacy in 2008, "Build That Wall" has similarly been embraced by Trump's supporters as the phrase that captures their motivation.
The trouble, of course, is that Trump's idea is extremely difficult to take seriously. The New York Republican not only believes it's possible to have a 1,000-mile wall stop illegal immigration, the GOP presidential hopeful also assures audiences that the project won't cost American taxpayers a dime -- because he'll force Mexico to pay for it.
The Washington Post reported this morning on Team Trump providing some details about the idea for the first time.

Donald Trump says he will force Mexico to pay for a border wall as president by threatening to cut off the flow of billions of dollars in payments that immigrants send home to the country, an idea that could decimate the Mexican economy and set up an unprecedented showdown between the United States and a key diplomatic ally. [...] In the memo, Trump said he would threaten to change a rule under the USA Patriot Act antiterrorism law to cut off a portion of the funds sent to Mexico through money transfers, commonly known as remittances. The threat would be withdrawn if Mexico made "a one-time payment of $5-10 billion" to pay for the border wall, he wrote.

In other words, the Republican candidate envisions a sort of extortion scheme. A Trump White House would threaten Mexico -- a U.S. ally, neighbor, and trading partner -- vowing to cut off money transfers unless the Mexican government agreed to write a multi-billion-dollar check.
To be sure, if the U.S. were to stop these money transfers, it would do real harm to the Mexican economy -- which is why Trump sees it as leverage he can exploit to get the billions he wants to build his border wall. In the campaign's newest memo, the Republican said Mexico's decision would be "easy."
But implementing such an outrageous gambit wouldn't be easy at all. First, as the Post's article makes clear, Trump's idea is probably illegal.
Second, if Trump thinks he can build a 1,000-mile long impenetrable wall for $10 billion, he's probably going to be disappointed.
And third, the idea that a U.S. president can extort billions from an allied neighbor seems pretty ridiculous on its face.
But as an electoral matter, all of this raises the possibility that Trump believes he has too much support from Latino voters, and he's conducting an elaborate experiment to see if he can push the level to new lows.