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Out of all of Trump's campaign promises, building the wall seemed like the easiest to implement. The only complexity involved in the construction is obtaining funding from Congress, otherwise it's a straightforward job that can realistically be completed in four years. It is also the easiest promise to verify - either the wall is completed or it's not, an objective straightforward fact.

In this context the final part of the campaign promise doesn't make a lot of sense - why would Trump declare that Mexico will pay for it? Did Trump ever explain his rationale for not simply letting Congress pay for the whole thing?

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    My sense was that it was to increase its appeal to voters, especially since his party routinely criticizes the other for spending too much money. In other words, to counter critics who were saying that it would cost too much. But I have no sources to back that up, which is why I'm posting this as a comment. Perhaps someone who wants to do some research can find some support in news coverage of the campaign and post an answer along these lines. – phoog Jan 15 at 19:36
  • The answer can be "verified with sources available to the public" Secondary source: Memo explains how Donald Trump plans to pay for border wall. – guest271314 Jan 19 at 0:56
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    @guest271314 the same source is on Trumps website as well: assets.donaldjtrump.com/Pay_for_the_Wall.pdf – JonathanReez Jan 19 at 1:10
  • @JonathanReez The approach appears to have been "cover all bases"? Congress was "asked" by the relevant administrative agencies (Executive Branch) for funding, which included use of those for construction of U.S.-Mexico border walls, and received that funding in FY 2017 and FY 2018 and use(d) that funding for border wall construction. The U.S. President is stallwart on their position. There appears to be some opposition to increased funding. – guest271314 Jan 19 at 1:40
  • "Did Trump ever explain his rationale for not simply letting Congress pay for the whole thing?" - No, he has never actually explained this rationale. Clearly, he stumbled across a resonant point during his pre-election rallies among his base of voters. – Joe Strazzere Jan 19 at 11:11
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The obvious reason would be that it increases the emotional appeal of the wall to those instinctively in favour of it.

It's a serious mistake to expect carefully planned and costed policy from campaign speeches.

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Basically, the US is in a major, major financial hole right now. Republicans (as a voting bloc, not as a group of politicians), as the party of small government, reduced spending, balancing the budget, etc, wouldn't go for a plan that would further complicate the already horrific financial hole that the USA is in. It would also go against Trump's "Drain the Swamp" message of reducing government waste, to propose a massive spending project. Therefore, he had to propose a way to build the wall without contributing to the debt/deficit (whether such funding method was feasible or not, by the way, was not a requirement, he simply had to say it; it is, after all, a campaign speech, and those are often based in not-quite-reality, from all sides)

FWIW (as an aside), it's extremely unlikely even he ever thought he could get Mexico to write a cheque to the contractors hired to construct the wall. I can't imagine anyone with any knowledge of how government finance actually works actually expected that. More likely, the US would apply tariffs, penalties, detrimental trade deals (which Mexico would have to take, because the alternative of not trading with the world's largest consumer economy would be even worse), and so on. From that, the US government would make money, and then Trump would request a spending bill from Congress of some proportionate amount to actually fund the wall. This is likely what "Mexico will pay for the wall" actually meant in real terms. As a non-American who doesn't follow national finance news that much, I don't know if he actually ever got those trade deals with Mexico in place to raise the money to fund the wall, and if he didn't, that complicates things quite a bit.

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The primary source states it would be "an easy decision for Mexico" due to the leverage the Executive possesses pursuant to the U.S. P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act to disrupt persons from sending funds to Mexico (and other financial transactions) from/in the U.S.

Make a one-time payment of $5-10 billion to ensure that $24 billion continues to flow into their country year after year.

Source: Memo explains how Donald Trump plans to pay for border wall..

Did Trump ever explain his rationale for not simply letting Congress pay for the whole thing?

Technically, Congress does not "pay for the whole thing" in isolation. The U.S. issues new debt and/or uses tax, fee and license revenues to "pay" for projects.

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