Donald Trump has an unconventional campaigning style, to say the least, but his visit to Mexico on Wednesday, to meet with Mexican President Peña Nieto, has broken the mold. The GOP nominee went on the trip even though U.S. Diplomats in Mexico advised against the visit on logistical and security grounds. And he didn’t bring a significant Press core to follow him about.
Trump’s visit, more specifically his performance on that visit, was characterized by the Clinton camp as a sign of weakness. To some pundits it appears that the Trump campaign is trying to bolster his foreign policy credentials, and improve his standing among Hispanic voters, generally quite unhappy with Trump’s past derogatory statements about Mexican immigrants. Meeting with and standing side by side with a prominent Latin American leader are seen as means to this end.
Typically Presidential candidates who seek to bolster their foreign policy images, including President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, visit friendly nations closely allied with U.S. interests. So on that count, Trump’s visit to Mexico is bold, risky, and perhaps, foolish. The two leaders met in private and then spoke to a small gathering of the press. Topics under discussion included trade, specifically the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA,) Mexican immigration to the U.S., and of course, the wall.
A mainstay of Trump’s campaign has been not only his proclamation that the U.S. will build a wall separating Mexico and the United States, but also that that Mexico will pay for that wall—-a radical proposal. And the two leaders had starkly contrasting recollections on this point. According to the President of Mexico, he clearly told Mr. Trump in the meeting that Mexico would not pay for a wall. However, the GOP nominee maintained that he simply didn’t bring up the topic for discussion. Those are two distinctly different versions of the same event. Who is correct and who is mistaken, or perhaps, lying?
Both Donald Trump and President Peña Nieto spoke decisively on Trade. They disagreed. Peña Nieto stated that NAFTA was a very positive treaty that benefited both the U.S. and Mexico, and pointed out that 6 million U.S. jobs depend on the exports to Mexico. Trump, however, said that the treaty was not fair to the United States, and that Mexico benefitted far more.
Clearly Donald Trump’s campaign trip to Mexico, an odd piece of political theater, was not a clear victory for either the Republicans or the Democrats. Will he win respect among undecided hispanic voters, and bolster his poor poll numbers among this important demographic group? Or has he demonstrated weakness, by failing to clearly assert his cornerstone policy (wall building) where it counts most? Time will tell, and the American voter will decide.