The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Could Donald Trump’s border wall really just be a virtual wall? Not according to Trump.

A U.S. Border Patrol vehicle sits near a U.S.-Mexico border fence Aug. 18 near McAllen, Tex. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Donald Trump is preparing to outline his new immigration plan Wednesday. At least one outlet is reporting that Trump's big, beautiful border wall might be on the way out — along with his previous support for the deportation of all 11 million illegal immigrants.

"You have some of his surrogates now saying that Donald Trump, when he talks about the wall, is also talking about not just a physical wall, but a technological or a virtual wall, raising some questions about what exactly that means," NBC's Hallie Jackson reported Monday afternoon.

The Trump campaign is denying this, anonymously. But perhaps not even they know what their boss is about to do with his immigration policy.

Trump, after all, has been waffling for more than a week now about what to do about mass deportation. And there have indeed been certain surrogates floating the idea of more figurative wall. Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said as recently as Monday morning that the wall would be "technological as well as physical."

But were Trump to actually go back on his pledge to build a physical wall, it would truly be one of the biggest flip-flops in political history. While the idea of a "deportation force" was central to Trump's appeal in the GOP primary, perhaps no one policy is so synonymous with the Trump brand as that wall.

Donald Trump vowed to remove criminal illegal immigrants from the U.S. "on day one" if elected president. (Video: The Washington Post)

And when people have suggested that the wall is impractical or not going to happen, Trump's response has always been the same: It's not the difficult, and it'll be a real wall.

He even said this on no fewer than three occasions last week. "We are going to have a real wall," Trump said during an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper on Thursday.

And in remarks airing Wednesday night during a Fox News town hall: "And it will be a real wall. It will be a real wall. It won't be one of these little toys that you see every once in a while, our government throws up a little wall like this."

And this from a rally Wednesday in Tampa: “We’re going to build a wall, don’t you worry about it. We’re going to build a wall. We’re going to build the wall, and Mexico is going to pay for the wall, 100 percent. And it’s going to be a big wall. It’s going to be a real wall. It’s going to be as beautiful as a wall can be, but it’s going to be a wall."

And in remarks from that same town hall airing Tuesday night:

HANNITY: I want to talk about — you've said a lot of things about immigration. Let's start with, I guess, your signature issue on immigration, which is you're going to build the wall.
TRUMP: Yes, 100 percent.
HANNITY: Here's my question —
TRUMP: Well, you know, what has been interesting that I've been watching over the last week or two, and they've been saying, 'Oh, well maybe he won't build the wall, maybe he won't' —
HANNITY: Jeb Bush said that. Jeb Bush said, "He'll never build the wall."
TRUMP: Oh, he said that a long time ago. I think —
TRUMP: I think people now realize we're building the wall. It's going to happen. It's 100 percent simple. You know, I tell the story all the time, the Great Wall of China, 13,000 miles long. This is 1,000 miles and we have Caterpillar tractors to build, okay?
It's 1,000 miles — it's 2,000, but we need 1,000. And it's so easy to do. And it gets higher and higher and higher every time somebody says I'm not going to build it.

It's true that some Trump surrogates have suggested that the wall might be virtual. Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) said as much in May. At the time, he also referred to the "rhetorical deportation" of every illegal immigrant. "Maybe we will be building a wall over some aspects of it. I don’t know," Collins said.

Trump supporter and Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been calling it a "technological" wall and a "digital" wall for months.

But Trump has been steadfast on this point, giving himself no wiggle room.

What's more, while his supporters have been somewhat understanding of his waffling on deportation, the wall might be a bridge too far.

Ann Coulter released a pro-Trump book last week in which she said immigration was the one issue on which Trump wouldn't be forgiven for changing his position. When it became clear he was waffling on deportation, Coulter said it was the wall that mattered most.

"We're getting a wall. We're definitely getting a wall," she told the Washington Examiner. "That's the one thing we know about a Trump presidency."

Imagine if Trump yanked the rug out from beneath his hard line supporters' feet again on the wall.

It remains to be seen what Trump will say Wednesday, but for a guy who has agonized over moderating on deportation, it's hard to see why he'd suddenly feel the need to do it on the border wall, too. It may be an impractical idea that would never actually happen during a Trump presidency, but going back on both that and deportation in one speech is asking for a revolt. And while polls show that the wall is unpopular, the issue isn't as riven with racial overtones and the potential to break up families as deportation is.

Trump is liable to do whatever he wants on this, but given his past comments, going back on the border wall would be very difficult to do.