What became clear in Tuesday’s Oval Office fiasco is that President Donald Trump doesn’t want the wall.
As my colleague Tara Golshan writes, the difference between the $1.3 billion in wall funding Trump has and the $5 billion in wall funding Trump wants is $3.7 billion — peanuts in the context of the $4 trillion federal budget. There’s plenty Trump could offer House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in return. Trump is, after all, the great dealmaker.
But Trump’s offer is, well, nothing. Rather than invite Pelosi and Schumer for a private negotiation, Trump asked them to the Oval Office for a public showdown in front of live cameras. “It’s called transparency,” Trump said. But it’s not transparency. It’s posturing.
This comes even clearer when you consider the wall’s true costs. The $5 billion in funding Trump is demanding isn’t actually enough to build the wall. Estimates of the total cost range from about $20 billion to $70 billion. Securing funding at either level would require a much bigger deal, with much more significant concessions from Trump.
But Trump isn’t offering a deal, and he isn’t constructing the kind of process where anyone might offer him a deal. Instead, he’s looking for a photo op. He’s looking for a clip of himself he can see played, and praised, on Fox & Friends.
Trump has a tendency to view his presidency as a reality television show where what’s important are storylines, confrontations, and plot twists. What he made yesterday was good television. But good television is about the fight, not the deal. The deal happens behind closed doors, it requires giving things up and seeing the other side’s perspective.
The deal often hurts. It often disappoints some of your supporters. The reason politicians make deals, though, is that they care about the thing they’re trying to get done. They care about it enough to give up something of value in order to get it.
Trump doesn’t care enough about the wall to give up anything in order to get it. He didn’t care enough when Democrats offered to fund the wall if Trump would protect DREAMers, and he doesn’t care enough now.
If Trump can get the wall by winning a public showdown, he’d love that. But it’s the winning, not the wall, that drives him. It’s showing his supporters he’s fighting for them that powers his presidency, not actually getting anything done. Tuesday’s Oval Office meeting was meant to give Trump what he at least thinks he wants — not the wall, but a fight over the wall.
According to the LA Times White House reporter Eli Stokol, however, Trump didn’t like what he ultimately got. He stormed out of the meeting with Schumer and Pelosi and threw a package of briefing papers across the room in frustration. So perhaps he’ll reconsider.