In what may be the sternest ultimatum yet, President Donald Trump has made his position on border security extremely clear: Build the wall or shut down the border. Lawyers and politicos are no-doubt in a frenzy searching for pre-emptive legal challenges that could stop him from carrying out one or the other of his threats, but is the president capable and willing to go such lengths?
The partial government shutdown has become a game of chicken with neither the Democrats nor the president willing to swerve, which leaves only the question of who can emerge intact. What Chuck and Nancy have failed to comprehend is that this threat is actually an optics trap that will frame them in the public mind as little more than open-border activists.
Legal, Legal, Legal
The president’s latest Twitter tirade covered a wide area, from trade to security, and has well and truly set the cat among the pigeons:
“The United States looses soooo much money on Trade with Mexico under NAFTA, over 75 Billion Dollars a year (not including Drug Money which would be many times that amount), that I would consider closing the Southern Border a “profit making operation.” We build a Wall or….
…. close the Southern Border. Bring our car industry back into the United States where it belongs. Go back to pre-NAFTA, before so many of our companies and jobs were so foolishly sent to Mexico. Either we build (finish) the Wall or we close the Border….”
The reality is that Trump cannot hope to win this war through the regular legal challenges. No matter what he does, whether it is constitutional or legal will be challenged by a concerted group of politicians, advocacy groups, and “concerned citizens” who just happen to have a few billion dollars lying around. His decision will be brought before the courts – most likely the ninth circuit – and put on ice. So what is a man to do?
All About Image
It seems that the only path to victory is to make his opponent’s position so unfavorable that they would be risking electoral suicide by holding the line. And this is the trap in which they are fast finding themselves.
Trump is taking the issue of the border wall and shifting it away from just an immigration talking point. He has begun making the argument that a porous border is bad from the holy trinity of political meat and veg: economy, trade, and drugs. If he is successful in this framing – and it’s difficult to argue that he won’t be – the Democrats will be presenting themselves as the party that seeks to destroy the nation.
As with all politics, winning is perception. If Chuck and Nancy are perceived to be endangering the economy, promoting the flight of companies to cheaper climes, and not taking the drug problem seriously, they are doomed.
Rock and a Hard Place
This all comes down to whether Trump can actually shut down the border. And the answer is yes, he can. Reagan did it. George W. Bush did it. The legal precedent is in place, leaving only the technical aspects to sort.
By redefining this as a triple-pronged issue – without even getting started on illegal immigration – Trump has a lot of wiggle room. Any attempt to use full-time active military personnel would be met with massive legal challenges, but not so for National Guard troops. Cars, trucks, and pedestrians can all be stopped at legal crossings, and out of necessity, perhaps a section of wall or two might be built at the not-so-legal ones.