It must have been an oversight when Donald Trump forgot to tell Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto to start raising money to pay for a border wall in their meeting today, telling reporters the issue wasn’t discussed.
Update: Peña Nieto has contradicted Trump’s narrative, now saying he told Trump at the beginning of their conversation that he would not pay for the wall. The Trump campaign issued a statement from a senior adviser that seems to confirm the wall was discussed and that it is “unsurprising that they hold two different views on this issue.”
If you’ve been to a Donald Trump rally, you know how it goes: When the billionaire builder is president, he’s going to build a wall on the US border with Mexico. And who, he asks the audience, will pay for it?
“MEXICO!” goes the refrain.
Trump’s claim that he can force Mexico to finance a huge new border wall has been the centerpiece of his campaign. But when he arrived in Mexico, he forgot to ask about it. Just a workaday mistake, right?
After the two politicians met, a visibly exhausted Trump said he respected Mexican people because he hires so many, despite the insults he has hurled at them throughout his campaign. He also said he looks forward to tweaking NAFTA to keep jobs in this hemisphere, which is a newly broad definition of where Trump thinks job should be kept.
Reporters immediately asked: Did you talk about who was going to pay for the wall?
“We didn’t discuss payment of the wall,” Trump muttered.
Huh. Must have missed something. Let me just check the campaign website again. Yup, right here:
According to Trump, “the United States has borne the extraordinary daily cost of this criminal activity…we have the moral high ground here, and all the leverage.” Surely, with leverage like that, it must have been an error that Trump didn’t bring it up.
Reporters in the room, perhaps disbelieving Trump, asked Peña Nieto if Trump’s number one agenda item with regard to the two countries relationships wasn’t mentioned.
No, the Mexican president said, their “open and constructive” conversation didn’t touch on it, but “I made him notice and feel the great responsibility that I have as president of Mexico to defend the Mexican people.”
Just a momentary lapse, then, by Trump, who didn’t mention the biggest applause line at all his events.
Peña Nieto reiterated to the press, and presumably to Trump, that undocumented immigration to the US from Mexico is falling, not rising, that the US and Mexico have deep economic ties, and that Mexico suffers when weapons flow south through the border.
Some pundits immediately found Trump’s sudden decorum presidential. After all, a diplomat doesn’t discuss disagreements where little progress is expected, at least not in public. His staffers certainly hope this take sticks: Trump is trying to soften his image without actually softening his policy, if he can get away with it.
But Trump’s campaign has been premised on the idea that US diplomats are mealy-mouthed losers who can’t get a good deal. Trump’s going to get you a great deal when he goes in and uses all his leverage.
If he can remember to ask about his number one demand.