By Veronica Mackey
More than a year ago, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump began his campaign, vowing to solve the illegal immigration problem by building a massive wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and making Mexico pay for it. He talked about deporting those who are undocumented and blamed Mexico for the growing crime and unemployment in America.
“They are not our friend, believe me. They are killing us economically,” he said. He added that, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists, and some I assume are good people.” This negative view of our southern neighbors drew outrage from Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, and has caused Latino voters to side almost unanimously with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox said during a podcast on “Kickass Politics” in May: “Trump is crazy. He cannot solve all the problems of all these people." He added, "We're coming back to the era of the ugly American, which was the gringo was hated around the world. He is the hated gringo because he is attacking all of us. He is offending all of us.”
Why then, would a man so bent on keeping illegal immigrants out of America, one who calls them drug traffickers and rapists be so gung ho about going to Mexico? When Mexican President Pena Nieto invited both candidates to meet with him, Trump jumped on the opportunity immediately.
Clinton dismissed Trump’s visit as a photo op to boost his negative polling among Latinos. She warned voters not to be fooled. But conservatives see it a crucial pivot needed to win the election.
In the past week, Trump has met with top Hispanic leaders and “softened” his stance on deportation, although he stands firm on his decision to build the wall. After multiple strategy shifts, and shake-ups in the Trump campaign, we are now seeing a more focused candidate, whose off-the-cuff remarks are being replaced by more scripted speech. The question is, can this new behavior be sustained until November?
Trump and Nieto met privately at an undisclosed location in Mexico City. Details of their conversation were not revealed. Trump, however, said the wall was not discussed.
According to Bloomberg.com, “Flyers sprouted around the capital immediately, calling protesters to gather at 11 a.m. under the title "Trump, you’re not welcome" and with suggested hashtags including #FueraTrumpFueraEPN (Out with Trump, Out with Enrique Pena Nieto) and #SrTrumpConTodoRespecto (With All Due Respect Mr. Trump). Several Twitter users told Trump to "stay home" or to "take Pena Nieto with you as our gift."
While it is apparent that Trump could win some Latino voters by sitting down with Mexico’s leader, the payoff for Nieto is less certain. In March, Nieto compared Trump to Hitler and Mussolini in regard to his populist rhetoric. However, the Mexican president isn’t much more popular than Trump with record-low approval ratings and corruption scandals, so he doesn’t have much to lose. According to a poll, his popularity plunged to 23 percent in August. Nieto did, however, make it clear after the meeting that his main priority was protecting the Mexican people no matter where they are in the world. He described them as good, hard working people. If anything, Trump’s visit gave Nieto a platform to try and convince his countrymen he was fighting for their interests.
It’s not clear yet whether the public relations that Trump is peddling will work. “This sends the signal that abusing Mexico has no cost; it validates Trump’s xenophobia and legitimizes it,” Arturo Sarukhan, former Mexican ambassador to the U.S., said on