A predictable reaction from a guy who not long ago told Fusion that Trump should pay for his own “f***ing wall.”
Nothing about this surprise trip to Mexico makes sense to me. For starters, I don’t see why Enrique Pena Nieto would want to meet with Trump. Pena Nieto’s poll numbers are already in the toilet and Trump is widely disliked south of the border. (I wonder why!) Watch below and you’ll find an irritated Fox mystified as to why Pena Nieto would extend this friendly olive branch. The only way meeting Trump helps him politically is if he confronts Trump during their meeting and then boasts about it afterward. But Larry made a smart point this morning in noting that petty trash talk towards Trump by the leader of Mexico might end up backfiring by rallying undecided American voters to Trump’s side. In a fight between an American candidate who wants to enforce the border and a Mexican leader who’s attacking him for it, many Americans instinctively will side with their countryman. The best Pena Nieto can do to extricate himself from this, I think, is to give a low-key statement after the meeting insisting that he and Trump had a “full and frank” exchange of views and that he stood firm on the Mexican’s government positions. I doubt that’ll do anything for him politically but it probably won’t damage him.
As for Trump, what’s his game here? When the news broke last night about the meeting, I assumed it was a straightforward goodwill gesture ahead of his immigration speech this evening. Trump has been reaching out to minorities over the past few weeks to try to show the more anti-Trump segments of the white electorate, especially women and college grads, that he’s not the bigoted ogre they keep hearing about in the media. Gladhanding Pena Nieto would be a way to take the edge off of a tough speech to come about stopping the flow of illegals and enforcing the laws to send the ones already here home. Sounds like a classic Kellyanne Conway “softening” play, right? Wrong:
Bannon, who previously headed the conservative website Breitbart News, made the case to the group that Trump must underscore his populist immigration views in the final weeks of the general-election campaign, perhaps with an audacious gesture.
Peña Nieto’s invitation was brought up, and Bannon said it offered Trump an opening to make headlines and showcase himself as a statesman who could deal directly with Mexico.
Trump was intrigued by Bannon’s proposal and agreed, but not all aides and allies were as enthusiastic, the people said.
Steve “Breitbart” Bannon, scourge of the pro-amnesty GOP establishment, was the one who suggested going to Mexico to gladhand Pena Nieto? W-w-what? The only way that makes sense is if Bannon wants Trump to confront Pena Nieto in person, so that he can say in his speech that he showed the Mexicans who’s boss, told them personally that they’ll pay for the wall, yadda yadda. But if he does that, it’ll blow up the “softening” logic of his minority outreach and might do major damage by convincing leery swing voters that he’s waaaaay too much of a loose cannon to trust with the presidency. If he can’t hold a semi-pleasant photo op with our next-door neighbor without getting into an argument, God knows what U.S. diplomacy under President Trump would look like. Even some Trump fans want the meeting to go smoothly. (“No name calling. None of the crazy stuff.”) I think Trump’s stuck with the same low-key “full and frank exchange” boilerplate afterward that Pena Nieto is stuck with. He wants to show voters that he can conduct himself diplomatically with foreign leaders but he can’t come off too chummy with Pena Nieto or else it’ll undermine his “nationalist tough guy” shtick. Assuming that’s what happens, I’m not sure how much the meeting moves the dial either way.
But wait. It gets weirder:
Trump is setting a distressing precedent today. He's traveling to Mexico. His traveling press has not been invited along. We're in Phoenix.
— Jill Colvin (@colvinj) August 31, 2016
No U.S. press at the big photo op? Then what’s the point? But wait! Conway told Fox News this morning that Trump will take questions with Pena Nieto after the meeting. Does that mean he’s holding a presser with … Mexican press only? That’ll be an awfully tricky line to walk. On the one hand, the Mexican press is a better foil for him than Pena Nieto is: American voters, who disdain the media themselves, will tolerate him sparring with them more than they will with Mexico’s president. But if Trump goes full Trump, insulting the local press on a foreign visit, he risks showing Americans that he can’t be “presidential” in a venue where presidents are expected to be at their most presidential. The only value in taking questions, I think, is to give him a chance right then and there, with Pena Nieto right next to him, to reiterate that he expects Mexico to pay for the wall. That’ll show that he’s resolute on his core immigration priorities while also being diplomatic enough to hold a goodwill meeting with Mexico’s leader. The problem is, what happens when Pena Nieto says, “I reiterated to him that we won’t be paying for the wall”? Where does Trump go from there with the cameras rolling?
Really odd, even by Trump standards.