By Jared Dorman | May 16, 2016
This memo is part of a series of posts showcasing examples from GPS' Policy Making Processes course. These assignments have students take the role of a policy adviser on a wide range of issues.
Memorandum for the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump
From: Darkest Timeline Consulting CEO, Deraj Namrod
Subject: Building the Mexican Border Wall
Action Forcing Event: Donald Trump becomes President of the United States
Congratulations on your recent electoral victory, Mr. President. The campaign was hard
fought, and the results were in doubt until the very end. You won the campaign the same way that you fought it: humbly and graciously. In your inaugural address, you made it clear that the first item on your agenda was the promise that propelled you into the national spotlight: your intention to build a “wall…[with a] big, fat beautiful door…” on the Mexican-American border. 1 I think that’s great, and I for one cannot wait to start winning again. However, I feel like you may have slightly overstated the possibility of such a wall being built. I would like to bring my concerns to your attention, and then make some suggestions for pursuing your masonry habits in the future.
Domestic Politics and International Cooperation
Helen V. Milner wrote a book titled Interests, Institutions, and Information. It’s a great
book, she’s no loser. I know you hate losers, Mr. President, so I feel that her studies on the
interplay between domestic politics and international cooperation would be useful for you to
read. Now, former President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon stated that “Mexican people, [we] are not going to pay any single cent for such a stupid wall.” 2 That’s obviously loser talk. However, it implies that getting cooperation on the wall may be a trifle more difficult than you imagined. Not only will it be more difficult to arrange internationally, crucially, it may be more difficult to arrange domestically.
Michael Bloomberg’s entry into the race was unexpected, and had dire consequences.
While winning the presidency with less than 50% of the popular vote has happened, never before has someone won with as little a share of the vote as you. A January 2016 poll projecting a you/Hillary Clinton/Michael Bloomberg matchup 3 proved to be accurate, as you ended up winning with 40% of the vote, slightly up from the projected 37%. Your popular mandate, while great, is not enough to engender total support from the legislature.
This brings us back to Milner’s book. The key takeaway from her theory is that
cooperation among nations is affected less by other countries’ relative gains or cheating than it is by the domestic distributional consequences of cooperative endeavors. 4 It is clear that the Mexican leadership is not in favor of funding the wall you want to build. If we look at the issue through this lens, it is easy to see why. The Mexican populace is fairly hostile towards you, Mr. President. You will never get the cooperation you seek in regards to the wall, because there is no political gain to be made on the Mexican side. Your own domestic support is also nothing to brag about. Had you won with 55% of the vote, perhaps you would have a sturdier leg to stand on. However, with only 40% of the electorate behind you, your domestic game will be incredibly difficult to play effectively.
Milner also argues that domestic politics exist on a scale from hierarchical to anarchical,
with polyarchical existing somewhere in the middle. 5 Hierarchical domestic situations exist in which the executive has the ability to act unitarily without institutional constraint. 6 It is important to note that a situation such as this does not require an authoritarian system to exist. In the context of the United States, if a filibuster-proof majority of the Senate and a majority of the House of Representatives agreed with you, President Trump, you would have the ability to act more or less as you wished. When there exists widespread consensus in the government, its strength grows. Most countries, however, are polyarchical. That is, there are a multitude of competing domestic interests and institutions that prevent the executive from acting as a unitary actor. That is the reality of your situation, President Trump. Regardless of your confidence in your convictions to have this wall built, you will need to get other domestic actors on your side before such a move is possible.
You made it clear throughout your campaign that you are no fan of the Chinese
government, their experience in reorganizing their administrative structure in order to change their decision-making during World Trade Organization negotiations could prove instructive.Prior to the restructuring of the government in 1998, there were over 40 ministries, commissions,and agencies. Over 50% of these ministries were related to economic issues. 7 All of these agencies were competing for influence, and they were loath to forfeit whatever influence they had. Initially, the government responded by creating a new body whose mandate was to assist preexisting agencies in altering their policies in concert with one another. However, because it was merely a temporary body, it lacked the structure and staff to operate effectively. 8 China’s main representative in the WTO negotiations, the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation (MoFTEC) was one of the strongest pro-trade liberalization forces in China at the time. It knew that joining would send a strong signal to the international community that China’s growth is a positive thing, that not having access to the WTO infrastructure (and dispute resolution mechanisms) and trade perks with other members would be crucial for future growth, and that a failure to reduce trade barriers would hamper the Chinese economy. 9
This was still not enough for the Chinese leadership to get domestic interest groups on
board. The fear of unemployment and competition from foreign goods was too strong, and thus prevented them from being able to agree with the WTO plan. Ultimately, Premier Zhu Rongji intervened in 1999 in order to provide the decisive push for reform. 10 Wang Yong determined that in theory, there were at least four main factors that Zhu Rongji had to consider before deciding to intervene: top leadership consensus, whether intervention will serve domestic objectives, timing, and the adequate power to intervene. 11 The main structural change that allowed Zhu Rongji to have the power to intervene was the restructuring of the central government. Most industrial ministries were placed under state administration, 50% of all staff were dismissed, many ministries were consolidated, and other industries were placed under state regulatory bodies. 12 This reorganization of domestic interests to help pursue international goals will serve as a useful template later on.
There are four key ways that domestic actors can influence the policy making process for
both domestic and international actions. They can set the agenda, amend a proposed policy, ratify/veto a policy, or propose a public referendum. I posit that for you, Mr. President, agenda setting and your veto authority will prove to be your most potent weapons in the fight to build the wall. In your campaign, you mastered social media like few others ever have. You’ve modernized the bully pulpit, and no other domestic actor has a voice with as much reach as yours. Your ability to veto legislation could also be wielded to terrifying effect, as we will outline in our policy proposals.
However, Milner’s book also talks about the impacts of asymmetric information on
domestic politics. In situations where there is an information gap between the legislature and the executive branch, the executive almost always has the advantage. The legislature has its typical collective action issues, and the lack of information means that if you follow your own tenets as laid out in The Art of the Deal, you can use this to your advantage. The legislature can compensate for this lack of information by reaching out to interest groups that have perceived expertise in the issue area of the moment. More information, in general, makes cooperation more likely. We too have addressed this in our policy recommendations.
1. Use the Powers of the Presidency to Align Domestic Interests
As stated earlier, you have a voice that reaches further than any other domestic actor in
the United States. This option would allow you to capitalize on this exposure that comes with the office. Put simply, we suggest you make it clear to all who would stand in opposition to your wall that you will veto every piece of legislation sent to your desk until a clean bill authorizing you to take measures against Mexico in order to finance the building of the wall is sent to you. Raising the debt ceiling, authorizing military spending, naming a post office, continuing resolutions, none of it gets through. Make the inefficacy of government touch the lives of every American. Send out tweets every time you veto, “I would love to increase National Institute of Health funding for cancer research, but Congress won’t authorize the wall. Sad!” Also use your enormous wealth to fund your own pro-wall interest groups to brief Congress on the merits of the wall.
This approach has numerous advantages. First, you have done a commendable job at
framing the wall as a measure of national security. With every tweet and every veto you put the onus on Congress to stop resisting you and your great ideas to keep the American people, and their jobs, safe. Even the most liberal Americans will look at the state of affairs and eventually surrender, letting you have the wall in exchange for returning to normalcy in day-to- day affairs. This would serve to align the legislature’s interests with yours, moving the polyarchical scale more towards the unitary end of the spectrum. Furthermore, you will prove to the legislature and other world leaders that you are not someone to be trifled with. When you want something done, you are prepared to do whatever it takes to make it happen.
Pursuing this course of action is not without its risks. Any illusion that you are a leader
who can be worked with would be shattered. If you were to get the authorization for your wall, it is almost assured that the legislature would respond with a vengeance to constrain you. I would expect impeachment procedures to start almost immediately, as legislators strive to assert themselves against what they would perceive as a hostile executive. The wall would be a Pyrrhic victory the likes of which hasn’t been seen in American politics in generations. Also, this perversion of the natural workings of domestic institutions could prove crippling to a system of government as a whole that has been becoming less and less popular with Americans over time.
2. The China Option
The China and WTO case provide an interesting example of what can be done with a
little creativity. What separates the United States case from the Chinese case in the late 1990s is that the United States bureaucracy has much more specific tasks (i.e., not multiple Homeland Security-esque departments) than the Chinese central government did. No reorganization is necessary, but you can intervene à la Zhu Rongji by using your authority as president to make the federal bureaucracy come to a grinding halt in order to force Congress’ hand. This is similar to the previous proposal, but much less severe in nature. In order to bring both parties to the table, we suggest that you withhold a nominee for head of the Environmental Protection Agency (to force the Democrats’ hands) as well as Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (in order to force the Republicans’ hands) until they provide authorization to pursue the wall project.
This option has tremendous upside. For one, it is not as egregious as the previous
proposal. You would come off much less as an obstructionist, and instead as someone who is just trying to shake up Washington’s ‘business-as- usual’ approach. Those two agencies are very important to supportive members of Congress, and the pressure on them to act quickly would be immense. Conditions are also ripe for this kind of intervention. You and your support staff all agree on the wall, so there is consensus. There is a domestic constituency that support the wall in an effort to stem the tide of illegal immigration. Having just been elected to the presidency, the timing could not be better for a bold initiative. Also, this is well within your Constitutional authority.
The main downside to this approach is that if any negative environmental or customs
enforcement-related events occur while the respective agencies do not have an agency head, the scorn of the American people and the legislature will be directed squarely at you. Your presidency would be over before it began.
3. Don’t Build the Wall
This proposal may be the most dramatic of them all. While you have promised repeatedly
to build the wall, in this scenario you recognize that the domestic interest groups are not aligned in such a way as to make it a viable option. The pros of this approach is that you would not spend all of your political capital on a highly contentious issue, and that you would not have to resort to tactics unbefitting of the presidency. Also, you would not antagonize one of our most important trading partners with whom we also share a land border. The cons would be that you would betray a non-insignificant portion of your base; however it is worth pointing out that a majority of the country did not vote for you. This implies that there is room for your approval ratings to increase with nearly 60% of the country.
Conclusion and Policy Recommendation
After assessing the pros and cons of each policy proposal, I suggest that you adhere to the
advice given in proposal #3. I realize that the wall is very important to you, but one of the
requirements of the presidency is to be the president of all Americans, not just the loudest faction of your supporters. A majority of Republicans support building the wall, but a majority of Americans do not. 13 We wish you and your administration the best in your future endeavors.
Jared Dorman is a first year MIA graduate student at GPS. His concentrations are International Economics and Korea. He also serves as an editor for JIPS.
1 Imbert, Fred. “Donald Trump: Mexico going to pay for wall.” CNBC. 28 October 2015. Web. 23 February 2016.
http://www.cnbc.com/2015/10/28/donald-trump- mexico-going- to-pay- for-wall.html
2 Ellyatt, Holly. Gamble, Hadley. “Mexico won’t pay a cent for Trump’s ‘stupid wall.’” CNBC. 8 February 2016.
Web. 24 February 2016. http://www.cnbc.com/2016/02/08/mexico-wont- pay-single- cent-for- trumps-
3 Morning Consult Polling. “Poll: Bloomberg vs. Clinton vs. Trump.” Morning Consult. 21 January 2016.
Web. 23 February 2016. http://morningconsult.com/2016/01/new-poll- could-bloomberg- win/
4 Milner, Helen V. Interests, Institutions, and Information (Princeton: Princeton University Press). (9)
5 Milner ,Helen V. Interests, Institutions, and Information. (11)
6 Milner ,Helen V. Interests, Institutions, and Information. (12)
7 Yong, Wang. “China’s Stakes in WTO Accession: The Internal Decision-making Process,” in Heiki Holbig and Robert Ash, eds, China’s Accession to the World Trade Organization (London: Routledge, 2002), pp 20-39. (22)
8 Yong, Wang. “China’s Stakes in WTO Accession: The Internal Decision-making Process.” (24)
9 Yong, Wang. “China’s Stakes in WTO Accession: The Internal Decision-making Process.” (25)
10 Yong, Wang. “China’s Stakes in WTO Accession: The Internal Decision-making Process.” (26)
11 Yong, Wang. “China’s Stakes in WTO Accession: The Internal Decision-making Process.” (29)
12 Yong, Wang. “China’s Stakes in WTO Accession: The Internal Decision-making Process.” (28)
13 Banks, David. “Trump’s Plan for Mexico Wall Divides Public: Poll.” Bloomberg. 25 September 2015. Web. 24 February 2016. http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-09- 10/trump-s- plan-for- wall-on- mexico-border-divides- public-poll