Donald Trump travelled to Mexico City on Wednesday for a meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto that led to a “constructive exchange” of views, according to the Mexican president.
Peña Nieto began his remarks alongside Trump by saying the two held a constructive exchange of views even though “we might not agree on everything.” He then launched into a detailed defense of US-Mexican trade and its benefit to both countries delivered by the North American Free Trade Agreement — a common punching bag for Trump on the campaign trail.
Trump, who listened to his host’s long remarks with a somber look on his face while a woman stood beside him at the podium translating for him, said that Mexicans were “spectacular” people when it was his turn to talk.
But he laid bare disagreements between the two men when he said it was imperative to stop the “tremendous outlow” of jobs from the United States over the southern border, and that NAFTA had benefited Mexico more than the US. And he stood up for America’s right to build a “physical barrier or wall” on its territory to stop illegal immigration and drug traffickers.
Trump warned that NAFTA would have to be renegotiated.
Trump’s calls for deporting all undocumented workers, labeling many Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “criminals,” and plan to build a wall along the border — that Mexico would pay for — have earned him withering criticism from Peña Nieto, as well as many independents and moderate Republicans.
But they are central pillars of his campaign, which has galvanized his white working class base behind his White House bid. Those most fervently opposed to immigration have pushed back against the rumored “softening” in his stance that he could articulate on Wednesday night.
Neither man gave an inch. But perhaps the cordial tone was surprising given the insults hurled by Nieto at Trump and Trump’s withering criticism of Mexico and the Mexican people.
As CNN points out, the trip was a big gamble for Trump:
But Trump’s approach — like the rest of his campaign — is highly unorthodox. Presidential candidates do not typically show up in foreign capitals for talks with leaders without intense preparation and highly choreographed game plans. Often, the parameters of a meeting are settled in advance. This trip was announced Tuesday night.
In addition, they usually visit strong allies where they are assured of a warm reception that will make for positive media coverage rather than sitting down with a leader who has compared them to Hitler and has disparaged their policy proposals.
Trump’s style, however, is more impulsive and unpredictable. He has never met a foreign leader in an official capacity. So his trip represents something of a risk. Even though the meeting with Peña Nieto is private, he has no control over how the Mexican leader will address the public and how his officials will brief journalists about it afterward.
The least that could be said is that Trump wasn’t lured into a trap by Nieto, who could have made life uncomfortable for the candidate if he chose to ambush him at the press conference. But how much did Trump gain? A photo op showing Trump looking presidential is good for a few news cycles but how does it help convince fence sitters to vote for him?
We’ll have to see how Trump fleshes out his ideas on immigration when he speaks later today in Arizona.