At every rally during the long months of the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump called from the podium, “We’re going to build a wall and who’s going to pay for it?” and was answered by a chorus of, “Mexico!”
But no one actually thought Mexico was going to pay for the wall, at least not according to Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL).
“I think it’s another bit of campaign rhetoric,” Rooney said on CNN Thursday. “It’s highly unusual, but I don’t think that anyone during the campaign seriously thought that Mexico would pay for that wall even though we all desperately believe the wall’s a metaphor for border security.”
Writing off serious (and seriously offensive) comments as jokes or metaphors has been a favorite tactic used by Trump and his surrogates. That was the route Rooney seemed to take Thursday after The Washington Post published a transcript of a call between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in which the two world leaders discuss who will pay for the border wall.
In the transcript, Trump tells Nieto that with regard to who will actually pay for the wall, he’s willing to “work it out.”
On CNN on Thursday, Rooney said that campaigns are full of promises—“comments, promises, commitments, expressions, vitriolic diatribes”—but that “once the campaign’s over, it’s time to move on to governing.”
“There’s been a lot of that,” Rooney said. “There’s been things that people have said during campaigns that turned out not to be believed later.”
But as one of the CNN anchors pointed out, Trump continued to say that Mexico would pay for the wall once even after taking office. The host also pressed Rooney on whether Trump has been straight with the American people about who will pay for the wall.
It doesn’t matter, Rooney said. Regardless of what was said during the campaign or after, no one ever really thought Mexico would pay for the wall. Everyone knew Trump was just a politician saying things.
“And Trump is not a professional politician, so he might even say more comments that might be disputed later,” Rooney said, “but the bottom line is no one really thought believed that Mexicans were going to pay for a wall, and no one really believed we don’t need to secure our borders. Two asymmetrical concepts there.”