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President Donald Trump has had a rocky first few weeks in office — from fights over his cabinet picks to protests and legal challengers over his immigration executive order — but he may find the biggest challenge lies in his best-known promise: The wall he wants to build on the U.S.-Mexican border.
Numbers suggest that Trump’s wall could become an anchor for him in public opinion polling. Americans’ support for the wall sits beneath Trump’s already low job approval numbers in many polls. And congressional Republicans are raising questions about the wall Trump’s promise that Mexico would pay for it.
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Since his inauguration Trump has not experienced the public opinion “honeymoon” that is usually afforded new presidents. Gallup polling shows 42 percent of Americans approve of the job he’s doing, while 53 percent oppose it. His inaugural approval rating from Gallup, 45 percent, was the lowest on record.
And Trump’s problems extend beyond the personal. Last weekend new poll numbers showed unhappiness with the president’s immigration order, with majorities opposing it in CBS News and CNN polls.
But the numbers for the wall are far worse. A variety of recent polls have found that six in 10 Americans oppose the wall. CNN, Gallup and ABC/Washington Post polls taken since mid-January all found 60 percent oppose or disapprove of building the wall.
Meanwhile, a recent CBS News poll found that 79 percent of Americans believe the United States will end up paying for whatever wall gets built. The price tag on the wall is figured to be in the range of $12 billion to $15 billion, according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Bearing all that in mind, what is Trump to do? The easiest answer might be to just drop the issue, at least for the time being, and hope people will forget about it. But the numbers also show why that won’t be easy for the new president.
While a solid majority of Americans oppose building a wall, an enormous number of Republicans favor it — 80 percent according to Gallup — and remember building the wall was a crucial part of Trump’s campaign, cited at rally after rally.
In other words, very early in Trump’s presidency he is being forced to make a decision on something that his base strongly wants and needs him to do, but that most Americans do not like.
And unlike other proposals or policy positions, such as the immigration order, the wall is more difficult to finesse. It’s real object that will cost billions of dollars to build. It’s a symbol that takes physical form, the kind that can be used in political ads. It’s a sign of Trump doing what he promised.
Those points may all be positives for Trump among his supporters, but for right now they look like a negatives for everyone else.
For a president who hasn’t had a honeymoon and who wants a win with voters, that is a problem. And with the project estimated to take years to complete, it’s a problem that could be with him for a while.