Politicians start working on re-election the day they win office (or at least the ones who keep winning do). And that’s what President Trump did.
There’s no way to know whether he actually uttered this sentence: "Let’s not build the wall I promised throughout my campaign because I want that issue alive in four years." But we do know that he didn’t get it built in his first two years in office, when Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress. His chances are even more remote now that Democrats control the House.
Sure, Democrats have opposed him at every turn, and the GOP never had enough votes in the Senate to shove border wall legislation through without at least a few Democratic votes. Still, there’s no question that Trump will again make the border his central campaign issue.
In fact, it’s already underway (lest you doubt that the 2020 election season is really underway). Last Friday, Donald J. Trump For President Inc., released a new video, just hours before the president boarded a plane to fly to the U.S.-Mexico border to view construction of a portion of a new barrier there.
"The video features 2020 Democrats flippantly dismissing the situation, as well as prominent Obama-era experts and media figures admitting that there is, indeed, a crisis. The video closes with a call for Democrats in Congress to work with President Trump to address the problem," the campaign said.
"Democrats refuse to admit there is a crisis along our southern border and are even actively campaigning on an open borders platform," Trump campaign National Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in an email. "President Trump has been an unmistakable leader on the issue of illegal immigration since before he took office and will not rest until our border is secured."
Trump is keeping up his onslaught on the issue. Last week, he threatened to shut down the U.S.-Mexico border entirely, but then backed down, instead giving Mexico a "one-year warning" to make efforts in stemming the flow of migrants to the border. (That, by the way, would mean the issue returns in April 2020 — right before the homestretch of the presidential election.)
The president is also cleaning house in his administration. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned Sunday and Secret Service Director Randolph Alles was booted out on Monday. On Friday, the White House pulled its nominee for director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Ronald Vitiello, with Trump saying he wanted a nominee who could provide more tangible results.
"Ron’s a good man, but we’re going in a tougher direction," Trump said at the time.
Trump is also setting out to make Democrats in Congress the villains in the ongoing saga, the rogues standing in his way as he seeks to protect America.
"We’re bucking really bad things with Congress, with the Democrats in Congress not willing to act," Trump said Tuesday in the White House. "They want to have open borders, which means they want to have crime; they want to have drugs pouring into our country. They don’t want to act. We have to close up the borders. We’re doing it, but ... I could do it much faster if they would act."
"So it’s a terrible thing. The Democrats in Congress — what they’re doing and the obstruction — they don’t want to fix it. And we have to fix it. They want open borders. They want to have millions of people pouring into our country."
While Democrats claim Trump is making up a fake crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border — and some of their presidential candidates, like former Rep. Robert Francis "Beto" O’Rourke of Texas, seemingly want to do away with border barriers altogether — poll after poll shows Americans care deeply about the issue.
The problem is only getting worse. Rio Grande Valley Sector Chief Patrol Agent Rodolfo Karisch told a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing Tuesday that border agents have captured people trying to enter the country illegally from more than 50 different countries, including Turkey, China, Bangladesh, Egypt and Romania. Customs and Border Protection agents apprehended more than 76,000 illegal aliens across the U.S. border in February alone and estimates say that number will top 100,000 in March.
There’s one last thing: Americans don’t much expect their politicians to follow through on every promise. So they’re likely to go along for the ride again as Trump pledges to build a border barrier — even though he failed to do so last time he made the promise.
Bottom line: It was a winning issue last election, and it might just be a winning issue this time around. And Trump has known that since the minute he won the White House.
He may be a lot things, but dumb ain’t one of ‘em.
*Joseph Curl ran the Drudge Report from 2010 to 2014 and covered the White House for a dozen years. He can be can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter at @JosephCurl. A version of this article ran previously in The Washington Times.