The Guy Who Thought Up ‘the Wall’ Says Trump Should Shut Government to Fund It


(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- On Thursday afternoon, President Trump caused more apoplexy among Republican lawmakers by saying he won’t sign a stop-gap funding bill if it doesn’t include the $5 billion he wants to fund his border wall—effectively signaling he’ll allow a partial government shutdown when funding runs out Friday night. “We’re going to go back and work on adding border security to this,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said after meeting with the president. Democrats refuse to fund “The Wall,” and without their agreement, Trump won’t get it.

As markets slid further in light of the news, the likelihood that the U.S. government might shut down over a border wall spat looked even more mind-boggling—especially since building the wall wasn’t Trump’s idea. In fact, he was disinterested when it was first suggested to him. As I recount in my book on the 2016 campaign, Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, the idea for the wall was devised by frustrated Trump aides, primarily Sam Nunberg, annoyed that their candidate wouldn’t stay focused on the issue of immigration:

Inside Trump’s circle, the power of illegal immigration to manipulate popular sentiment was readily apparent, and his advisers brainstormed methods for keeping their attention-addled boss on message. They needed a trick, a mnemonic device. In the summer of 2014, they found one that clicked. “Roger Stone and I came up with the idea of ‘the Wall,’ and we talked to Steve [Bannon] about it,” said Nunberg. “It was to make sure he talked about immigration.”

Initially, Trump seemed indifferent to the idea. But in January 2015, he tried it out at the Iowa Freedom Summit, a presidential cattle call put on by David Bossie’s group, Citizens United. “One of his pledges was, ‘I will build a Wall,’ and the place just went nuts,” said Nunberg. Warming to the concept, Trump waited a beat and then added a flourish that brought down the house. “Nobody,” he said, “builds like Trump.”

The Wall quickly became Trump’s signature campaign promise—his “Free Bird,” something fans called for at stadium rallies. It signified his commitment to passing hardline immigration laws, which won him the loyal support of right-wing television personalities, such as Ann Coulter, whose approval he craves.

Talked to Coulter last night. She isn't about to jump off the Trump train: compared him (favorably!) to Kim Jong-un

— Joshua Green (@JoshuaGreen) August 25, 2016

But when it became clear in recent days that Trump was not going to get his border funding—and might be all right with it—Coulter and other hardcore immigration restrictionists criticized him vehemently, which appears to have triggered Trump’s late-stage revolt against the stopgap bill supposed to keep government open through the holidays.


— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) December 19, 2018

It’s anybody’s guess how events will unfold from here. But since a “mnemonic device” designed merely to focus an addled candidate looks as if it’s about to have major repercussions, I call up its architect to hear his thoughts on what he’s wrought. Nunberg, it turns out, remains proud of his creation and is fine with a shutdown. “Just because it was a political device doesn’t mean it’s not a good policy,” he tells me. “Trump’s gotta do this. He can’t keep kicking the can down the road. He needs the Wall. If he loses his political capital, he’ll be of no use to Republicans, and he’ll be removed from office.”

At least for now, Trump seems to share his ex-aide’s assessment.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jillian Goodman at

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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