ANALYSIS: Donald Trump hasn’t backed down from border wall demands — because he can’t

Click to play video: 'Trump heads to U.S.-Mexico border to argue for wall'
Trump heads to U.S.-Mexico border to argue for wall
WATCH: U.S. President Donald Trump has done another U-turn. He now says he never actually meant Mexico was going to pay for that border wall, even though he promised that repeatedly while on the campaign trial. As Jackson Proskow reports, Trump is still flirting with the notion of declaring a national emergency to get his way – Jan 10, 2019

In an act that defies any understanding of geometry, a man in an oval office has painted himself into a corner.

That clumsy metaphor pretty much sums up U.S. President Donald Trump’s predicament over the current government shutdown and his proposed border wall with Mexico — and explains why we are where we are today.

READ MORE: U.S. federal workers face 1st payday without pay amid government shutdown

Long before he was ever elected, Trump started promising he’d build a wall along the southern border.

Who was going to pay for it?

“Mexico,” we were told, over and over again.

“100 per cent. They don’t know it yet, but they’re going to pay for the wall,” said Trump to a crowd of cheering supporters in Phoenix, Ariz., back in August 2016.

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Trump’s campaign even went so far as to publish a document outlining all the possible ways that Mexico would hand over the money, including “a one-time payment of $5-10 billion.”

Sounds great — if you can get it.

READ MORE: Trump cancels trip to economic forum in Davos due to government shutdown

The problem has always been that Mexico has no intention of paying, and Trump has no way of making them.

But that was just part of the issue. Somewhere along the way, the wall became the defining promise of Trump’s presidency.

It was a big, tall barrier, but it was also symbolic of his views toward immigrants, refugees, Muslims, Mexicans and even America’s traditional relationships with foreign governments.

The wall was the one thing Trump’s supporters could look to as the physical manifestation of everything he claimed to be and promised to do, and that’s how it became the thing Trump couldn’t escape.

WATCH: Global News coverage of the U.S. government shutdown

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Which brings us to where we are today: three weeks into a government shutdown, there’s no end in sight because the wall is now non-negotiable.

Trump won’t back down because he simply can’t. To cave now — and to suggest the wall can wait —  would be both a figurative and literal blow to Trumpism and all the promises that come with it.

Remember, the wall was a talking point long before Trump was elected for the same reasons it is today: Americans were told drugs, crime, rape, violence and terrorism would all be stopped by the barrier.

Two years into this administration, the arguments haven’t changed, but suddenly, we’re told that it’s a crisis that needs our immediate attention — a crisis so dire that it requires a vast swath of the U.S. federal government to go unfunded until the wall itself is paid for.

Time has escaped, the wall has gone unbuilt, and Trump is in a pressure cooker of his own creation.

READ MORE: FBI agents association says U.S. government shutdown could impact national security

Politics are also a big part of the equation for Democrats, who just as stubbornly refuse to cave to Trump’s demands.

They want to be seen as using their newfound majority in the House of Representatives to stand up to the president.

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Approving any money for the wall would be a betrayal of their supporters’ core beliefs in the same way that not building the wall would be seen as an act of treachery by Trump’s backers.

WATCH: U.S. air travel concerns arise amid government shutdown

But the difference is that Democrats have not tied their fortunes to the wall. It is not their raison d’être. They could probably give in to Trump and walk away with just a few political bruises.

Trump would not be so lucky, should the tables be reversed.

Conservative firebrand Ann Coulter is the epitome of Trump’s wall problem. Every day, she rips into the president over that one big, towering, unfulfilled promise.

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Even Trump’s more moderate backers have suggested his base would revolt if he backed down now.

Trump is not particularly adept at nuance, and when it comes to the wall, he has seemingly erased any distinction between a delay and the decision not to build it at all.

READ MORE: U.S. Coast Guard suggests employees host garage sale to make ends meet during government shutdown

Trump has so inextricably linked the barrier to the shutdown that he has left himself no off-ramp to reopen the government and talk about building it later, as Democrats and even some Republicans have suggested.

Delaying would be seen as just as bad as walking away.

That’s why workers have been left unpaid and government agencies have gone unfunded, as the president is trapped by a wall that still doesn’t exist.

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