I feel like this is a unique opportunity to pass effective campaign finance legislation. Politically I think not giving Trump the wall is the better strategy, which may be why such a deal will not happen.

In terms of effect I think the pros of campaign finance reform far outweigh the cons of the wall, even if the entire 5 billion end up being wasted money.

When I discussed this proposition with other people, with whom I tend to agree politically, many felt that there shouldn't be funding for the wall under any circumstance.

What are the major political barriers to a deal like this happening?

Edit: I guess the main point is that I don't see why democrats keep saying that they won't budge on funding the wall. Compared to taxes or health care or many other issues the downside of the wall is truly minuscule.

Edit: I can see now that campaign finance reform may not be in the hands of congress or the president at the moment due to the supreme court. However the question to me still remains as to why so many democrats insist on not giving up 5 billion for something in return. I think the current dynamic would give the democrats a very good bargaining position if they were to offer wall funding.

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    Rather than simply editing clarifications into the end of your answer with edit notes, you should simply edit the question to stand as if it were always the best version of itself. Anyone looking to see previous edits can just view the revision history. Relevant meta from RPG.SE (because I couldn't find a corresponding one on the politics meta or the overall SE meta): Don't signal your edits in text
    – V2Blast
    Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 19:30
  • FYI, the requested amount for the wall is not 5 billion. It's 3.7 billion, as 1.3 billion of the 5b funding is quite literally the base funding for CBP.
    – M28
    Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 14:22
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    Try to avoid "why not?" questions on StackExchange sites. A "why not?" question supposes that the world ought to be a way, and that there needs to be a reason why the world is not that way. But that's not how the world works; rather, things do not happen by default and something needs to make a thing happen for it to happen. There are an infinity of reasons why things don't happen. Try rephrasing some questions as "why not?" questions and see what happens: why did you not eat fish for breakfast this morning? Why did you not learn French as a child? Hard to answer! Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 22:06
  • Lots of comments deleted. Please note that comments are supposed to make constructive suggestions about improving the question. They should not be used to discuss the subject matter of the question or to answer the question.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 18:35

13 Answers 13


The question is complex and poses potentially a multitude of possible subquestions because there are an infinite number of possible deals that Democrats could try to make.

But, in the case of campaign finance, in particular, one of the biggest issues is that the U.S. Supreme Court in the case Citizens United v. FEC, 558 U.S. 310 (2010) dramatically limited the extent to which effective campaign finance legislation can be constitutional. And, it makes little sense to reach a bargain in exchange of legislation whose effect will be illusory because it will be struck down under clear constitutional precedents.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – yannis
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 9:02
  • It won't (can't) be struct down if the campaign finance reform takes the form of a constitutional amendment. See movetoamend.org or Lessig's book all about why that's the way to go. So (strictly speaking) this answer is false. Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 0:03
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    For what it's worth, other than the bully pulpit, the President has nothing to with either method of amending the constitution. The normal constitutional amendment process involves only both houses of congress and the states.
    – Flydog57
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 4:04
  • @MatthewElvey If something can be adopted only with a constitutional amendment then the extent to which effective campaign finance legislation can be constitutional is dramatically limited, and it is for all practical purposes impossible for a constitutional amendment to take place in the course of budget negotiations over a government shutdown, so no, the answer is not false.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 7, 2019 at 3:34

The current POTUS is not exactly known for being a man of his word. That means Democrats cannot give Trump the Wall in exchange for a promise. They need a finalized bill, which takes a lot of time, and needs to be approved by both (majority Democrat) House and (majority Republican) Senate, which takes a lot of time and non-trivial negotiations.

Things get more complicated if we recall that the Republican majority in the Supreme Court might strike down the Democrat portion of any such deal.

It's further complicated by the fact that Democrats currently benefit from the Trump shutdown. Current public perception is that Trump shut down the government to make Democrats give him a wall, against the wishes of the electorate. While that perception lasts, Democrats win by default.

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    It's a little disingenuous to suggest only the POTUS has issues with broken promises. Anyone with long term memory should be able to remember the first amnesty that was supposed to go hand in hand with securing the border. Both parties lied then, and they both lie now. Commented Dec 31, 2018 at 14:09
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    @JackOfAllTrades234 That's not at all what I suggested. I truthfully implied that Trump has an exceptional track record among politicians, when it comes to things such as getting caught lying (15 times a day in 2018), failing to meet his end of the bargain (refusing to pay for services he ordered and received), or running of professional large scale scam operations (Trump U). It's a little disingenuous to suggest all -or any- politicians have a similarly bad track record, without facts to back up such allegations. False equivalence.
    – Peter
    Commented Dec 31, 2018 at 17:26
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    @Peter: Not just politicians. That's been Trump's modus operandi in business since his father gave him his first few millions. Perhaps you've heard the expression "He'd rather make a crooked dime than an honest dollar"?
    – jamesqf
    Commented Dec 31, 2018 at 18:50
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    FWIW, there is also a subset of the population that would much rather have a deadlocked Congress than a Congress passing laws they wouldn't want, so while they may have any range of opinions about the President they are happy with his obstructive actions. Commented Dec 31, 2018 at 21:14
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    @Peter (15 times a day in 2018) greatly exaggerated by twisting words out of context... hard to take an opinion serious when they rely on, for all intents and purposes, Occupy Democrat numbers... Against the wishes of the electorate Trump was hired to based on campaign promises - one of which is a wall. Democrats win by default which is a problem... "Democrats" win - and America loses.
    – WernerCD
    Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 4:09

As someone who lives in a border state, I'd like to add that the idea of a complete border wall costing only 5 billion is, frankly, ludicrous. The wall would have to pass over very rugged terrain, including mountain ranges, and solve some fairly unique engineering problems. We'd have to build miles of roads just to get building supplies to those remote areas, again, through extremely rugged and empty terrain. There WILL be cost overruns. Not to mention the dangers of the wall to some very delicate ecological areas along the border, and the (potential for) additional migrant deaths when people try to go through more dangerous and remote areas if only a partial wall is built. 5 billion is just a drop in the bucket here, and it can be defeated by a rope - arguably the oldest technology known to man. Any wall high enough to stop someone with a rope and a grappling hook would have to be ridiculously large (again, in the middle of a remote mountain range). The G.W. Bush administration already built a fence, and in doing so they had to get special exceptions to the Endangered Species Act and the normal environmental impact process that is followed by every other federal project.

Many Democrats are aware that once construction begins on what they believe is a terribly bad idea, it will be much harder to stop the follow up payments - and they remember the problems with the Bush Administration's fence.

The force of economics is much, much more powerful than any wall the United States could ever build. The wall is nothing more than a very expensive symbol of Trump's nativism to his (non border-state) base, and I think many Democrats are offended by that on general principles - so it's unlikely they would accept their representatives compromising here.

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    "Problems unknown to engineering"? Without commenting on the broader question of whether or not any of this is a good idea, that particular objection just sounds silly. If the ancient Chinese were able to do it, over a much longer distance of much harsher terrain than the US/Mexico border using pre-industrial technology, there's no good reason why it should be an intractable problem for modern-day America. (Again, keeping my opinions on whether or not it should be built at all to myself, but if you're going to argue against it, don't make arguments that hurt your case by looking ridiculous!) Commented Dec 31, 2018 at 20:32
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    @MasonWheeler Hmm, yeah, in retrospect that was pretty hyperbolic - I'll edit. My understanding is that in order to actually stop people it would need to be much higher, and pass through more rugged terrain than the sections of actual wall for the Great Wall of China - unless we have people actively patrolling it at all times (which I think they did for the Great Wall). I would also note that structural engineers do solve "unknown" problems fairly often in practice - my thinking is it would be more along the lines of "even more expensive." Maybe "unique engineering problems" makes more sense?
    – Ella
    Commented Dec 31, 2018 at 21:44
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    @MasonWheeler, Re "the ancient Chinese were able to do it": but it took 22 centuries to build it; an NCC infographic estimates the great wall cost approximately $360 billion.
    – agc
    Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 5:02
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    The Soviet Union had an Iron Curtain. That didn't work out for anyone except the people (and ideas) it was trying to stop getting in. Berlin Wall ? Saw that pulled down. Walls aren't the solution to a political problem. Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 23:44
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    @StephenG The Berlin Wall wasn't built to keep people out. It was to keep East Germans in. And it (including the sniper towers) did an excellent job. Very few people were able to get out of East Germany until the government of Hungary (which had a fairly open border with East Germany) started allowing East Germans to go through Hungary to Austria, where they could hop on a train and be in West Germany (where they were constitutionally guaranteed citizenship) in no time. Once that happened, the East German regime recognized it could no longer hold its citizens captive, and let them go. Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 17:58

What are the major political barriers to a deal like this happening?

All of the other answers have considered the question from The Democratic Party’s perspective. There is of course another major political barrier—and that’s that, in order to pass (at least, in the Senate), any such deal must have (at least some) support from The Republican Party.

A recent article on Vox by Matthew Yglesias addresses this point rather well: The shutdown is intractable because Trump’s wall is ridiculous and Republicans know it. In essence, because they don’t care for it either, they’re certainly not going to give up anything meaningful (campaign finance reform or otherwise).

  • 3
    This answer could be improved by using an article from someone that doesn't condone political violence. Arguably, an article from a republican if your goal is to show it from their perspective. Commented Dec 31, 2018 at 16:29
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    @JackOfAllTrades234 Care to explain what "political violence" is supposed to be? It's certainly not actual violence as far as I can tell. A republican source couldn't hurt, but your comment still seems really strange to me.
    – Nobody
    Commented Dec 31, 2018 at 21:08
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    I +1'ed this because there is nothing wrong with using Vox as a source. The factuality of their reporting is high; which makes them a more reliable source of information than Fox News. Mediabiasfactcheck rate Vox as highly factual and Fox News as mixed factuality. I also think this answer raises a good point about the shutdown being intractable because Republicans aren't going to want to concede anything substantial in exchange for border wall funding -- especially not something as politically game-changing as meaningful campaign finance reform.
    – John
    Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 0:05
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    What you don't know is the democrats are filibustering the budget in the Senate right now.
    – Joshua
    Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 18:25
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    @Joshua Yes, because the budget (as passed by the House) has the funding for Trump's wall. But it can't pass while the Democrats are filibustering, which is why they need to be involved in breaking the impasse. But if the Democrats were to say "we'll give you the wall if you do this", the Senate Republicans could balk and say "No, we don't want to do that". Which is the point of this answer.
    – Bobson
    Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 19:46

What you're suggesting is that the Democrats give Trump $5 billion to build a wall in exchange for creating new campaign financing rules that (presumably) benefit the democrats1. This sounds like a bribe. OK that was harsh.

Any changes to campaign funding rules will affect all congresspersons', and presumably the president's, ability to get re-elected, and thus there will be a large subset of politicians that will feel uneasy about changing the rules, even if it might work in their favour eventually, which cannot necessarily be guaranteed. This is the old problem that people don't normally want to change the system that got them appointed to a position once they are in that position.

Even if the wall has few downsides, it does have the price tag which is in itself a downside. Giving such a large sum to building a wall which may or may not be effective is diverting the funds from other projects that, in the view of Democrats, are far more beneficial.

I think going through the various options that $5 bn could afford the tax payer is out of scope for this question, so I'm not going go over them and point out why they may be preferable to the wall.

A further barrier is that congress do not want to simply give money to whatever president (in this case Trump) to do whatever he/she likes just because they're the president and will otherwise refuse to pass the budget.

1 Even rules that a 'fair' may be seen as benefiting the democrats if they are currently thought to be disadvantaged

  • 3
    "Giving such a large sum to building a wall which may or may not be effective is diverting the funds from other projects that, in the view of democrats, are far more beneficial. " I don't really see this as the main reason. By any reasonable estimation this shutdown has already cost the economy over 5bn.
    – Jagol95
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 21:48
  • 2
    is diverting the funds from other projects... That reminds me that I saw something the other week about Republicans paying for one tax cut with...another tax cut. I didn't research it at the time and no longer remember the details to find it now, but I remember thinking "that makes no sense." Commented Dec 31, 2018 at 14:54
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    I think you're mistaken about the price tag. For a lot of people, it's the idea of the wall itself that's the problem, not the money. They'd be against it even if Mexico wrote a check for the full cost.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Dec 31, 2018 at 18:57
  • @jamesqf I agree but the question does point this out and asks why such a deal can not happen. Commented Dec 31, 2018 at 19:19

$5 Billion is not minuscule, it's a huge amount of money

Many would disagree with you that the downside of the wall would be minuscule. Aside from the downsides of the wall itself, $5 billion could instead be spent on hiring 10,000 people who believe that immigrants took their jobs for 10 years paying $50,000 per year. Add another $20 billion to take into account what the wall would actually cost and it's just throwing good money after bad.

  • 4
    I know it's a lot of money. By miniscule I meant in comparison to other things that could potentially be gotten in exchange. For example the american people spend 5billion on health care every 12hours. If legislation could be passed that improves this very flawed system for years to come the 5 billion pales in comparison.
    – Jagol95
    Commented Dec 31, 2018 at 20:27
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    Sure it's a lot, but you need to get sense of perspective. 5 billion dollars is about 1/9 of annual pizza sales in the US. We could pay for Trump's Wall by giving up one out of nine pizzas and donating the price to Trump. While that's not likely a great idea, the country would be healthier for it. Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 3:22
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    @WhatRoughBeast Then again, $5 billion is way more than enough to solve all water problems in Flint, MI, with enough left over to pay for de-escalation training for how many police forces across the country? It’s a lot of money to spend on something that won’t improve border security in a meaningful way, but could be used for so many other things that we know are effective. Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 18:07
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    Your alternatives are effective, but not for the issue of illegal immigration. Until you can convince your Congresscritter of what's important, your comment does not pertain to the original question. Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 18:20
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    @WhatRoughBeast Note that 5 billion dollars would not be anywhere near enough to build Trump's wall; the 5 billion represents only a down payment to get construction started. Total construction costs would run somewhere between 25 billion (which is what Trump was originally asking for) and 70 billion, plus there would be significant yearly maintenance/repair costs in perpetuity after that. Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 6:50

Why don't the Democrats make a deal to give Trump his border wall in exchange for campaign finance reform?

As a neutral observer having no association or affiliation with either the Republican or Democratic parties based in the United States, an objective analysis would be that the two subject-matters are only loosely related.

If one were to view the question from a Democratic perspective, there is no rational reason to conclude that a "border wall" will have any impact on "border security". A wall is stationary. Human beings have the ability to

It could be rationally concluded that the Democratic Party establishment have determined that a "border wall" is a complete waste of taxpayer resources (see @Ella's answer) and will be ineffective for, but not limited to, the short list noted above. Am not certain how or why the idea of a "border wall" was conceived and has any traction at all as a solution to "border security".

A "border wall" will not preserve a "white" majority in the United States, which the concept of a "border wall" attempts to subliminally project by means of fear and xenophobia in the propaganda that the "heartland" of the United States consumes; the projected demographics for the U.S. population in 2050 has already been published by the United States Census Bureau; a "border wall" will not change that projection.

It is not clear why the question makes the assumption that "campaign finance reform" is currently a priority on the agenda of the Democratic Party of the United States; specifically, any more of a priority politically than the subject-matter is to the Republican Party of the United States. Both Democrats and Republicans like money.

From a Republican Party perspective, it could be that the party leadership does not have a sense that a "deal" is necessary; that is, if the propaganda of "border security" persists in popular media, the party leadership could have the position that eventually the tone of fear posited into the minds of people who consume such rhetoric will become established in the hearts and minds of a particular segment of the populace to the degree that there will be no need to make a "deal"; people in the "heartland" of the United States will endorse the notion of a "border wall" being necessary and theoretically effective simply because it is a wall (similar to keeping livestock in an area and wolves out of that area) and thus will thwart some "smuggling" (of various kinds) and decrease the migration of people from wherever they are to the United States, whether by way of official documentation or not.

The notion that a wall will somehow stop individuals going to and fro is perhaps alive in individuals who have not ever hopped a fence, cut through a fence or wall, tunneled underneath a fence or wall, or paid U.S. dollars to an official to simply open the fence or wall, or look the other way while hopping, tunneling underneath or flying over a fence or wall is occurring (tons of cargo were flown to Arkansas and other states during the Clinton years as Governor and Iran-Contra years).

While "campaign finance reform" is not necessarily associated with "bribery" in ordinary political parlance, the implication is that politicians are bought and sold by means of "campaign finance". Bribery of officials - of any political "party" - is an age-old practice, and there is no particular reason or data to support any notions that individuals who claim to be a member of the Democratic Party of the United States are any less prone to be susceptible to bribery than individuals who claim to be a member of the Republican Party of the United States.

The individuals who migrate to the United States - with or without "documentation" or becoming "documented" are far more motivated to overcome any physical barrier than the U.S. is to prevent such migration, as a substantial portion of those migrants, whether "documented" or not - are now an integral part of the U.S. economy (officially and unofficially); from farm work to cooking food in "American" restaurants to construction to every other industry and sectors within every industry; perhaps save for the military industrial complex, which is a monopoly of centralized interests.

Both Democratic Party and Republican Party accept contributions ("bribes") to run their political machines (including bribes from "undocumented" migrants). Humans migrate to geographic regions where their prospects are deemed to be "better" than where they are, in spite of any physical, social, cultural or other obstacles. As an example, European powers (and their peasant populations) were far more motivated to conquer what they considered to be the "New World" and leave what they considered to be the "Old World" than the native inhabitants were to keep those European powers from conquering their sovereign lands or escaping the feudal conflicts, corruption and despotism of Europe proper. Where bribery (alcohol; weapons to fight local adversaries; etc.) did not work to co-opt those existing nations in the "New World", raw military might was used (e.g., the National Guard deployment to the U.S.-Mexico border). The same holds true in this instance of political history.

The United States is the "New World" for migrants traveling to the United States from Central and South America (and every other geographic region in the world); like those Europeans who fled from Europe over the span of 300 years to displace the native populations in what is now the United States; the current migrants will use whatever means necessary to reach the United States of America; some might even be versed enough in their own history to be fully aware of the fact that the United States of Mexico existed not that many generations ago, and have re-established such already, even if informally.

Therefore, there is no "deal" to be made.

  • 3
    What does i.e.g. mean?
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 10:22
  • 1
    @wizzwizz4 "That is, for example". A combination of "i.e." and "e.g". Retained from studying volumes of English literature some time ago. Still reviewing old notes to locate the source from which gathered the abbreviation. Apparently not in common usage in modern literature. Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 15:53
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    I didn't really want to enumerate all the various ways one could bypass the wall in my answer, but appreciate that you did so here.
    – Ella
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 0:14
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    For a 'neutral observer' providing an 'objective analysis,' your obvious bias is coming through loud and clear. No one argues that, just because someone could pick a lock, or break a window, front doors on houses are futile. They tend to keep honest people honest and provide extra time to detect/capture those that would thwart such devices. Much like a wall at the non-geographically challenging portions of the USA/Mexico border would. Also, those that would migrate with "documentation" have no need to overcome physical barriers. They are commonly referred to as immigrants. Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 19:52
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    @guest271314 - Sure. You're repeated use of quotes around words like 'documented' suggests you don't believe there is a difference between illegal aliens and immigrants - Leftist. Using the straw-man argument of 'preserving "white" America' suggests a Leftist agenda as well. You, for whatever reason, appear anti-wall and anti-sovereignty. Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 20:05

While "the downside of the wall [may be relatively] minuscule." in budget terms, denying Trump that victory casts in doubt the facade of effectiveness the "Great Negotiator" has with his base. It puts his ability to come through for them in doubt and will erode that support.

So, forgoing a minuscule trade with trump, minuscule embarrassing him in front of his base before 2020, priceless!

  • You're saying that it's not for some constructive purpose but rather to stick it to domestic competitors that you disagree with. Just remember that mean streak when the tides have turned.
    – clay
    Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 23:02
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    Denying Trump the victory paints Trump as a ridiculous obstructionist in the eyes of Democrat supporters - which he is already - and paints the Democrats as ridiculous obstructionists in the eyes of Trump supporters - which they already are. Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 7:52
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    “Oh no sir [Mr. Clay], it’s been embarrassing for some time now”. Say, ever since McConnell dedicated the GOP conference of the Senate to making Obama a one term President. Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 4:18
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    I think this is a good answer to this question (among other factors.) It could be improved by sticking to a more objective statement of reality and dropping the gleefulness. As people pull out the video of Trump promising that Mexico will pay for the wall and how it will 'go up like magic' and commentators on the right call Trump a coward for even considering a deal without a wall, the democrats cannot cave on this issue without giving Trump a huge win.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 15:25

As a slightly different take, I suggest that Democrats may be unwilling to get sucked into a boondoggle on this scale in the first place. Given the performance of Congress in the past I doubt this, but I'll just throw it out. Five billion is pretty insignificant on the scale of total US government spending, but I suggest that is a pittance compared to what is needed to do the job.

The best example of an effective border fence is the now-defunct Berlin Wall. In round numbers it ran about 100 miles. Where heavily guarded, it was extremely effective. (The morality of the measures used to make it so effective are not part of this discussion. So don't go there.) The US-Mexico border is about 20 times as long, just under 2000 miles.

Let's assume that 10% of the border will be guarded at the same level of effort as the Berlin Wall, with the rest being held at 1/3 the effort and cost. What does this represent? Most importantly, it does not represent a simple wall, which Trump in his naivete is proposing. In addition to structure, you need people: the Berlin Wall sucked up about 47,000 troops. Using the 10%/100% - 90%/33% ratio, a working Mexico Wall would need a permanent staffing of about 376 thousand people, give or take. Not all of these would be actual guards, of course, but since the organization is stationary you might get away with 50% guards and the rest support. Let's use prison correctional officers as the baseline pay scale, and assume 100% overhead (a fairly standard number, which includes things like medical and pension). The current CO average salary in the US is 43,000 per year, so a nice round number per person would be 100 k per year. Doing the math works out to 37.6 billion dollars per year in salaries/support per year.

Is this a decent estimate? Well, let's see. Assume one guard post every 1/4 mile, with three people on duty at all times. That's 12000 people on duty 24 hours per day. That, in turn means a total of about 5 times that many guards, since a week is 168 hours, divided by 40 gives 4.2, and you need spares to deal with illness and vacation. This says 60,000 "normal" guards. And you need multiple guards per post to cut down on corruption effects - guards who make 43,000 per year are eminently bribeable. Double this number for reaction force, roving guards and command staff, and you're up near 120,000, which is 2/3 of the original estimate (376,000 divided by two). For a back-of-the-envelope effort it's not bad.

Already you can see the problems. Furthermore, the physical barrier needs to be much more involved than a simple fence. You need a wide area cleared with both outer and inner walls, and multiple guardhouses/bunkers, with a spacing which depends on terrain. A decent approximation might be the costs of building an interstate highway. If it comes to that, the Wall will need a road running its length, and it will also need power lines along its length as well. Let's go with an interstate. According to one study, interstates in the US run about 20 million per mile in 1996 dollars. Among other things, construction of a working Wall in existing built-up areas would incur enormous costs in eminent domain seizures - along with being powerfully unpopular. 2000 times 20 million is 40 billion, so it's easy to see why 5 billion for a Wall which will actually work is not the brightest idea Trump has come up with.

I've no idea if Democrats have done the math, although the fact that I've never seen a public release of such an estimate suggests that they have not. If they have, yet agree to fund Trump's early version, they might well find themselves forced to commit to further spending in order to avoid wasting their previous commitment. It's called the Sunk Costs Fallacy.

  • The concerns you raise are likely not limited to democrats... perhaps the best answer to a walls cost effectiveness is this concern. Put another way, how many GOP legislators are worried about what the wall, if built, will look like in say 20 years... will it be another Maginot Line? Perhaps with a plaque with their names! Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 0:16

There's almost no end to the reasons why a deal to trade the wall for campaign finance reform won't work. These two items are just not seen as equivalent items in terms of politics at the moment and while campaign finance reform has become a democratic talking point post-citizens united, its probably not the first item they want out of a bargain. Its more of a long-term goal than one that can be addressed in a simple quid pro quo trade.

Part of why the Democrats swept the house was that the Republicans were not seen as providing a meaningful oversight role over the President. At this point in time the Democratic base wants both to control an out of control president and perhaps also get a little payback for the damage the president has done to norms, institutions, rule-of-law, international standing, and left-leaning causes. His environmental policies alone would anger a left-leaning base, but the president's thinly veiled racism and tribalism hasn't exactly endeared him to the left's base. The almost out-right and widely understood corruption of the president in terms of Russia and trying to directly make money off the presidency, make him toxic to agree with for the democratic base. From their perspective its difficult morally to agree with the wall or any other items in his agenda that are far-right causes. Especially when the wall and the migrant caravan outrage, are seen as simply tools to please his far right base, in order to hopefully avoid impeachment.

Furthermore now that the president's economic-related behavior has began to destabilize trading markets, he'll likely slowly enter a weaker and weaker negotiating position over the long haul. Why trade too soon if the President is unlikely to give you a meaningful trading victory.

  • "The almost out-right and widely understood corruption of the president in terms of Russia and trying to directly make money off the presidency" - Extremely partisan point of view, bordering on Fake News.
    – Sjoerd
    Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 23:30
  • 1
    @Sjoerd I think that statement is largely correct from even an objective point of view. Almost every aspect of the president's political life or business life is under credible investigation and many people associated with the president's political rise have plead guilty. I think that many of his supporters accept that the president is utterly corrupt they just believe that he is still loyal to their causes (nativism). But even if you believe that is a partisan statement, it shows how the democratic base might feel and thus could not agree to be seen supporting his causes. Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 0:24
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    @Sjoerd Making money off of the presidency is not purely partisan. Maryland, Virginia, and DC have files a lawsuit that Trump is profiting from the presidency. For instance, look at link
    – doneal24
    Commented Jan 15, 2019 at 18:39
  • @DougO'Neal Lawsuit isn't a conviction yet. Innocent until proven guilty, wasn't it?
    – Sjoerd
    Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 9:55
  • 1
    @Sjoerd Yes, innocent until proven guilty but with both a Democratic and a Republican state suing the president and a judicial decision to allow the suit to go forward on the basis of the facts, it doesn't look like partisan fake news.
    – doneal24
    Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 13:37

The short answer to this question is rather a rhetorical question. Why would the Democrats fold here? IMHO there is no upside for the Democrats to give in to Trumps demand.

The base rhetoric from team Trump is that the Wall is the best way to secure the border, and from the Democrats and some Republicans is that there are better cheaper ways. It is all over the news, you can read all about it if you care to. However, the rhetoric and rather or not it is right or wrong, or reflects our views as citizens, or is the smartest way to secure our borders, is about zero sum in what this political dispute is all about. The whole thing here is not about securing our borders, it is about politics.

As far as the 2.5 B that was offered, that amount of money is trivial and petty as compared to what this government shutdown may be costing. Both sides as far as the money is concerned are being stupid and pigheaded and risking much more money then the 2.5 B, or the 5B or even the 25B the wall may eventually cost to be finished. This fight is not about money, this fight is about politics. To look at in any other way then a political fight would be lacking in making any sense.

The Democrats have a good strong hand here. Rather or not they let it play out to the end or throw in a big bet, they are likely coming out ahead at the end of this round. They can call any bet the President is going to make. The President has made a huge bet, he has virtually pushed all in with a government shutdown. He has also ratcheted up the game with a lot of table talk and misdirection. This kind of play often works, if the stakes can be made high enough your opponent will blink and fold even with the best hand and the best chance of winning at a showdown. No doubt that this play would have worked 6 months or a year ago. One of the downsides to this play is that it typically smells of desperation, that is it is pure bluff and if you have the cards, and can see some desperation you make the call. Come January hell is going to freeze over and the Democrats are going to make the call. Unless the President finds some miracle card on the river, he is going to lose this one.

The kind of player that will tend to make the big call, is the kind of player that has been winning a little lately. They have more chips, they have more confidence and they are not as concerned with the possibility of a lose, as much as they are excited with the prospect of a big win. This fits the profile of the Democrats since the mid-term.

The kind of player that will make a big push without all the outs they should have, we won't say bluffing, over betting seems better, is the kind of player that is not playing with all the cards and chips they were getting before in the game. They have taken some losses, the game is not looking as good as it once did to them. They are not beating the other players like they were, and they have not quite wrapped their head around the new reality of the game they are in. They play like the winner they were but their plays just don't work the way they used to, their hands just don't seem to stand up and it doesn't seem to make much sense to them so they keep playing like the winner they believe themselves to be, hoping the cards will change or their plays will start working again.

The President is in a bad way politically speaking. Dozens maybe hundreds of lawsuits and investigations, many of which have potential to go very badly for him, his friends and family. The Democrats won the House in the midterms and after two years in the lounge telling bad beat stories and whining they are ready to get back in the game. The President is simply not in the soft game that he once was. For whatever reason The President started this hand at that "holy Sh*t what just happened" meeting with Pelosi and Schumer with cameras rolling. It was a game the Democrats were more then happy to play at this time. The Democrats are looking to politically bust the president and this particular hand all things considered is the best they have had in a long time, so they are going to play it. I think the president playing this hand at this time is unwise, I think he is thinking better late then never. At any rate what you are seeing is high stakes political poker, the Wall and the issues surrounding it and immigration are just peripheral at best. No room for compromise.

  • The point of a deal is that you give your opponent something he wants in return for something you want. So in response to your first paragraph: the upside for the Democrats is that they get something in return. The OP thinks that campaign finance reform might be that 'something in return,' but it could be something else. If you start with denying the other side what they want, no deal will ever be possible.
    – Sjoerd
    Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 0:16
  • 1
    All I saw, might be wrong was Trump demanding 5b for the wall, not an offer of any kind. I also don't think the Prez has anything to offer that is as sweet as the wall dying to the democrats, I dare say they are getting more then they could ask for.
    – Jon
    Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 0:40
  • It's up to the Democrats to define what they want in return. But it looks like the Democrats aren't even trying to reach a deal.
    – Sjoerd
    Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 0:57
  • This answer really goes all in on the poker analogy... :P
    – V2Blast
    Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 19:34
  • "It's up to the Democrats to define what they want in return. But it looks like the Democrats aren't even trying to reach a deal." Why should they? Even negotiating with Trump about such ridiculous thing as wall would cost them votes. The longer the budget is blocked, the longer shutdown lasts, the more are Democrats gaining. Trump has shot himself in the foot here. His whole political narrative is that he is good for economy, he is good negotiator, he wants to make all citizens rich and safe. Shutting down government proves him wrong on all 3 accounts.
    – jo1storm
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 10:46

I believe that there are multiple factors in play to answer your question. First the political nature in this century in the US is more about tearing down your opponent than working together to benefit the country. It may have been similar in the past but I believe it is much more so recently. Democrats appear to want nothing more than to make Trump and Republicans look bad and unable to fulfil their campaign promises. Just as the Republicans acted during the Obama presidency.

Second, as another answer pointed out, campaign finance reform is not possible until the supreme court decision is overturned and the SC deems fair elections and un-paid for politicians is more important for the common good than free speech. Any law put in place can be circumvented and the money delivered through another channel. This does not even count placements into high paying jobs when someones term ends(ie. Paid speeches, Law Firms, Think Tanks and Cable News).

Lastly, if you divide the 5 billion by the number of people who pay federal taxes that would be used on this wall, the number is not trivial. By saying that we waste tons of more money on other issues is no reason to add to the pile. That line of thinking is what got us so far in debt nationally. On the other hand, if wealthy republicans want this to happen it would be miniscule - to them. But they (those who want a wall) want the poor and middle class to shoulder the burden while they get 'the biggest tax breaks in history'.

It might be different if building a wall would make the US more secure. There is no hard evidence that it will. There is lots of talk from other countries that have built walls to show that it does not stop illegal immigration or smuggling.

If we had armed mobs and paramilitary in Mexico that might want to swarm our border... If we were as small a country as Israel, then I could see some benefit.

Side note - my opinion - If you take Israel as an example: The walls on their border are not meant to stop illegal immigration, its the fact that they do not employ them if they do sneak across. If there were no jobs here for illegal immigrants there would be a great reduction in the numbers.

Another Side note - my opinion - US actions in central America are a BIG factor in why certain countries are such a mess. This is another option to look into regarding migration patterns.

EDIT: One idea - For everyone who wants a wall, how about crowdfunding?

  • 6
    I disagree that the Democrats want nothing more than to make Trump look bad. Quite aside from the fact that he manages that without any help from them, a significant majority of voters oppose the wall. Letting Trump start building it over their objections would be the best way to make him look bad.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 18:56

Another reason: whenever a republican votes for something that would raise taxes, that is almost guaranteed to haunt them come election season. Especially in the primaries. Likewise, voting for this bill would put a terrible black mark on a democrat, amounting to political suicide, as the democratic base are strongly against the border wall.

Another factor in this is that congress is gaining democrats, giving them more clout on the matter.

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