Back when he was just a presidential candidate, Donald Trump made his pledge to build a wall along the entire southern border the gravitational center of his campaign. To Americans worried about illegal immigration, Trump gave a concrete symbol of his commitment to "securing the border." And in politics, as in life, the magnetism of a fitting symbol cannot be overstated. Perhaps even more fantastical than this vision of a 1,900-mile impenetrable fortress was Trump's promise that Mexico would pay for it. As of yesterday, Speaker Paul Ryan has confirmed that it will in fact be Americans who will fund this chimera of security. And because of that, voters now have a way to stop it — by voting Trump's party out of congressional power in 2018.
Congress controls the purse strings, which means senators and representatives get to decide where tax dollars go. In many instances, this becomes a monetary dodge around the heavy lift of actual legislation. Last night, Ryan told MSNBC host Greta Van Susteren that while there are "various ways" to force Mexico to chip in on the wall's costs, "First off, we’re going to pay for it and front the money." At an earlier meeting (Republicans are on a "congressional retreat" in Pennsylvania), Ryan suggested a "supplemental appropriations bill," i.e., a sign-off on billions of dollars for Trump-wall-only spending.
For those who oppose this project, the beautiful thing about Trump's "beautiful" wall is that it will take a while to build. Even if all the workers and materials were ready to go today (they're not), construction would still be a no-go. That's because many stretches of the border wall's path would necessarily cut through private property, a pesky nuisance for Trump to be sure, but one he legally cannot get around. Privately held land would have to be bought or captured from its owners, and that takes a while. Each state has its own eminent domain laws, and residents must legally be given fair notice and time to present their case against a federal land snatch.
But imagine all that legal legwork was somehow already done. It's still difficult to fathom under what circumstances much ground could be broken before the 2018 congressional elections. The BBC reported that Trump's wall would require three times more concrete than the Hoover Dam. To make and transport that kind of enormous material flow means establishing nearby plants, not to mention trucks and equipment. This kind of undertaking is not only costly — it is time consuming.
For Democrats, Trump's wall could be a huge electoral boon. For starters, Trump is reneging on his promise of Mexico funding this massive building project. Many of his voters — especially those already skeptical of Trump — might even be angry at the huge time and money suck of his border wall. As of August 2016, a solid 61 percent of voters surveyed opposed the wall altogether.
All 435 House seats will be up for reelection in 2018. Should Americans grow weary of the daily deliberations about Trump's wall, or if the legal proceedings got bogged down in courts, the financial and political toll could be enough to swing the House back in Democrats' favor. (The Senate seems much more difficult, as Democrats will be defending a whopping 23 seats, as opposed to the Republicans' manageable eight.)
If the House did turn blue, they could make defunding Trump's wall the central issue of their work day. Given the general unpopularity of Trump's signature campaign promise, his border wall might end up materializing in just one way — a lost party majority.