Swing-district Republicans ditch Trump’s ‘Build the Wall’ rhetoric

While most swing-district nominees are talking border security, just a handful are openly embracing his $25 billion dream.

Donald Trump promised Mexico would pay for a border wall at a November 2016 campaign rally in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Donald Trump promised Mexico would pay for a border wall at a November 2016 campaign rally in Hershey, Pennsylvania. CREDIT: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Since his June 2015 presidential campaign kickoff, Donald Trump’s empty promise to erect a massive wall along the southern border — at no cost to the American taxpayer — was the centerpiece of his platform. Three years later, it is clear that Mexico is not paying for his wall and Republican candidates in swing districts are not rushing to embrace the $25 billion project.

ThinkProgress examined the campaign website issue pages and posted campaign ads for the more than 100 Republican incumbents and candidates who have advanced to the November 2018 general elections in districts deemed competitive by the Cook Political Report. While at least 62 of the candidates included language about the need for strong border security, only 18 openly called for any version of the Trump Wall.

This could indicate that Republican candidates recognize that the public is not eager to increase the national debt by billions more than Trump and the GOP-led Congress already has. A June Gallup poll found 57 percent of Americans opposed the proposed wall, compared to just 41 percent who supported the idea.

Trump’s promise was always long on wall but short on specifics. “I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words,” he pledged to open his campaign. When a former Mexican president made it clear that this was never going to happen, Trump fired back: “The wall just got 10 feet taller, believe me.”  By Election Day of 2016, it was the piece de resistance of his rallies, whipping his supporters into a frenzied call-and-response in which they answered that Mexico would pay.


After winning the presidency, Trump demanded that the U.S. Congress appropriate billions of dollars to the wall, but continued to insist Mexico’s check would soon be in the mail. He continues to frequently tweet about it and his administration calls it a high priority. In recent months, he has taken to falsely insisting that construction is already underway. In recent days, he even threatened a government shutdown if Congress doesn’t commit billions in taxpayer dollars for the effort this year.

But most GOP House candidates in competitive races do not share his enthusiasm for talking about the issue. Just six vulnerable Republican incumbents do so: Reps. Don Bacon (NE-2), Troy Balderson (OH-12), Karen Handel (GA-6), Brian Mast (FL-18), Pete Olson (TX-22), and David Schweikert (AZ-6). And while Balderson explicitly says he “will work with President Trump to build the wall and protect Ohio’s working class from illegal immigration,” most of the others merely acknowledge supporting H.R.6136 – Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2018, a bill that included border wall or border fence funding.

The few non-incumbent candidates who are more vocal in their support are also among the most politically extreme. “Pro-life, pro-gun, pro-Trump” candidate Carol Miller, the GOP nominee for West Virginia’s open 3rd District House seat, vows in her campaign ads to “build the wall” and “make English the national language.”

In one spot, she proudly notes that she worked to make the Bible the official state book during her tenure in the state legislature.


Chip Roy, the Republican running in the open Texas 21st District, lists his desire for Trump’s wall on one part of his campaign issues page and his plan to limit the role of federal judges by “considering impeachment where appropriate, and/or limiting their tenures.”

New Hampshire Republican Eddie Edwards, who won the nomination for the open 1st District seat on Tuesday, says on his campaign site and in his ads that he will work with Trump to build the wall.  He also calls for a repeal of federal gun background checks and endorses allowing some convicted domestic abusers to own firearms.

And Danny Tarkanian, a frequent candidate seeking Nevada’s open 3rd District seat, says on his site that he supports “building ‘the wall’” and also that he believes the government should pay for private and religious schools because it is “hypocrisy” that “liberals who command a woman’s ‘right to choose’ when it comes to terminating a pregnancy” do not also give “women the right to choose what school to send their children to.”

Ironically, both Roy and Tarkanian both also list reducing federal spending among their top priorities.