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“…and I’ll make Mexico pay for it!”
Who cares if Mexico pays for it? We’re arguing over $5,000,000,000 in the budget; it’s an unimaginably huge amount in terms of my pocket book but the federal government wastes that much money on nothing every day. Yeah, I darn well would prefer if the feds didn’t waste all that money all the time. Border defense constitutes one of the fundamental duties of the government, and I’m willing to pay for it. The question then becomes what’s the best way to go about it?
Well, you’ve got other options: E-verify. Better enforcement on visa overstays. Radar and helicopters and active border patrol units, hey, that’s what we already do. Why don’t we just beef up the current operations?
The problem is, as it always is, politics. Without going into it too deep, look at Marco Rubio. In 2010 he was the Tea Party’s golden boy; he articulated conservative ideas well, he was young, good-looking, and he was actually a minority so that none of that Democrat identity politics would work on him. And then the Gang of Eight happened. The Tea Party’s golden boy was proposing amnesty.
My point isn’t to pick on Rubio in particular. Politicians lie, always have, always will. You gotta figure they’ll always look out for #1. But that usually comes in the form of pandering to your voters and your donors; makes one wonder why the GOP so consistently lurches to the left of its base on immigration. I’ve seen a number of explanations and none that seem complete. My best guess is that the politicians have read the demographic charts, they assume that the ever-growing Hispanic percent of their district will take a strong view on immigration. The votes they’d lose from a smaller portion of the electorate that holds strong views on the subject is going to be more than they’d lose by disappointing their base (who, let’s face it, are already going to vote for ’em over the Democrat).
And, to be fair, there are some perfectly reasonable ideological stances that argue in favor of immigration. More people means a bigger economy. Free trade theoretically includes the free exchange of labor across borders. A lot of people come here to pursue the American dream. Heck, I dislike e-verify simply because I don’t like people tracking my movement, especially the government. Maybe that politician is voting that way based on noble reasoning. If so he shouldn’t have sold his views as something else to the public.
For ages, we’ve had politicians who’ve superficially agreed with us, but can’t ever seem to get the job done. The best we seem to get out of them is boilerplate rhetoric, stuff that’s carefully crafted to sound tough to the base but be easy to walk back later.
And here we get back to Trump; Trump read the market and realized there was an unmet demand. Instead of offering the standard he says he’s going to build a wall, and make Mexico pay for it. People have said they’ll build a wall before, but make Mexico pay for it? You can’t walk that back to appeal to a constituency who supposedly has fond associations with Mexico. Trump wasn’t just taking a position; he was nailing himself in place. The fact that he can’t back down from that position lets his voters believe that, when they vote for immigration restrictions this time, maybe it’ll stick.
And that’s also why the wall itself is important. Take any other measure; if one administration raises the funding for the Border Patrol the next one can lower it again. Helicopters and radar and whatnot can be given and taken away. E-verify can be ignored. But a wall? It’s much harder to take a wall back. The politicians can lie all they want; if they had to spend some serious political capital to tear the wall down, brother, it ain’t gonna happen. Maybe they pull the guards off, maybe they offer amnesty. On the other hand, maybe we’ll get more politicians who realize that their voters don’t like being played for saps.