Donald Trump, since day one of his campaign, has reviled Mexican immigrants as criminals, promised to build a wall on the US-Mexico border paid for by Mexico, and threatened to pull the plug on trade between the two countries. So now he’s going for a visit.
You don’t get a second chance at a first impression anyone, but the US Republican nominee appears to hope offended Latino voters and moderates turned off by his intolerance will see a different side when he heads south to meet with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto, who in turn has compared Trump to Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
The trip comes after Peña Nieto invited both Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to meet with him before the presidential election, an acknowledgement that he will have to work with either should they win the November election.
Trump, meanwhile, plans to deliver a speech on immigration in Arizona later tonight (Aug. 31) that has been subject to many delays as he struggles to land on a position that won’t offend his rabidly anti-immigrant supporters while acknowledging the humanity of migrants.
Peña Nieto’s own position at home is almost as difficult as Trump’s in the US—Univision journalist Jorge Ramos noted that 66% of Mexicans have an unfavorable opinion of their own president, while 89% of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of Trump. Though his election in 2012 was a hopeful moment, Peña Nieto’s economic agenda has stalled and he has been unable to stem drug violence, even as allegations of corruption continue to dog his party.
It’s unclear what Peña Nieto, who is already getting heat for taking the meeting, hopes to get out of it. Former president Vincente Fox, a member of a rival political party, has called him a traitor and said Mexico doesn’t want Trump around.
The Republican campaign clearly hopes equal footing with a foreign leader will burnish Trump’s distinctly unstatesmanlike reputation. But his struggles to offer a consistent position on immigration will be highlighted as Trump, with his tendency to say what people want to hear, addresses audiences in Mexico and the United States in the same day.
Confusion abounds as to where exactly Trump will land on immigration. His campaign advisers are now stressing to him that he is on the path to lose this election if he cannot improve his support among Latino voters turned off by his policies and the white nationalist supporters attracted to the campaign. With just 68 days until the election, Trump may not have time even if he can find a coherent message.
Now, the ultra-hardline approach Trump has taken to deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants now occasionally cracks, with him talking about a “softening” or his own personal misgivings about deporting people. The centrist Republicans he attacked as weak during the primary are now calling him “Amnesty Don.” But then he veers back to his plan for a deportation force (a paramilitary force to deport people) or cheering on controversial Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio.
As with many things Trump, it’s not clear what the outcome of his trip will be, so we’ll have to follow along. His staff apparently expects it to be “like he’s already negotiating on behalf of America,” according to Politico. They carry expectations that Peña Nieto will give Trump policy concessions that will allow him to moderate his own position.
Aside from the fact that a private citizen negotiating with a foreign country is illegal under US law, it’s hard to imagine Mexico’s president wanting to make a deal with Don.