Whipping in and out of Mexico Wednesday, Donald Trump managed to further inflame Mexicans’ indignation with the GOP nominee, but his visit south of the border was unlikely to sway a lot of Latino voters.
Trump avoided any gaffes and was constrained as he spoke at a news conference with Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto at Los Pinos, the official office and residence of the Mexican president. It followed a meeting the two had behind closed doors.
Trump didn’t repeat the statements he made when he opened his presidential bid - that Mexico sends its people to the U.S. and they are rapists and people who bring crime and drugs.
But he didn’t back off any of his policies on immigration.
Standing side by side with Mexico's president and under its country seal and its red, white and green colors, Trump stuck to plans to build a wall in Mexico and avoided any sort of “dressing down” from Peña Nieto for how he has trashed Mexicans and Mexico.
When he was asked about paying for the border wall, Trump managed to push the issue aside as something that would be discussed later. He said they didn't discuss who would pay for it. Trump has previously said Mexico would pick up the cost.
Peña Nieto, who is nearing the end of his six-year term and can't run for re-election, did not push back on what the country’s leaders have been saying for months, that Mexico would not pay for it at the news conference. But a couple of hours later, Peña Nieto tweeted that the private conversation between the two, he made it clear to Trump that Mexico would not pay for the wall.
The Mexican president did say Mexicans have been offended by what Trump said and said Mexicans in the United States are "honest people and hard working," "well intentioned" and people who respect the law.In his comments on a future relationship with Mexico, Trump was very basic. He said he had five goals. His top goal is stopping illegal immigration not just between the two countries, but also from Central and South America, followed by building the wall he said.
"Having a secure border is a sovereign right and mutually beneficial. We recognize and respect the right of either country to build a physical barrier or wall on any of its borders to stop the illegal movement of people, drugs and weapons," he said.
His other goals included dismantling drug cartels and ending movement of illegal drugs, weapons and funds "across our border"; improving the North American Free Trade Agreeement and finally, "keeping manufacturing wealth in our hemisphere."
Trump expressed love for the Mexican people and the contributions of Mexican Americans to the U.S., but didn’t apologize for what his previous statements about Mexicans and those who come to the U.S.
“I happen to have a tremendous feeling for Mexican Americans, not only in terms of friendships, in terms of the tremendous numbers I employ in the United States and they are amazing people, amazing people,” Trump said.
But that statement is only likely to please those who already are in his camp. Those who do support him said they saw his meeting with Peña Nieto as a demonstration of his leadership and makes him look presidential.
“What we saw in the news conference is one of the greatest acts of flip flopping we’ve seen from a presidential candidate,” said Israel Navarro, a political strategist with El Instituto in Mexico who has done work on both sides of the border.
“I think that people have some preconceptions based on past declarations from Peña Nieto and Donald Trump and I don’t think this press conference will change substantially the way people are thinking of them,” Navarro said.
Hillary Clinton holds a wide lead over Trump when it comes to Latinos, but some Latinos have met with him and tried to advise him on the tone he has used with the community as well as some of his policies.
The news conference did little to answer questions that linger about Trump’s immigration plan. Some were hoping to hear that later Wednesday from his Arizona speech.
Artemio Muniz, head of the Texas Federation of Hispanic Republicans, said while he thought Trump was trying to show leadership and he was impressed by the nearly similar speeches of Trump and Peña Nieto,“I want to see what he is going to do about the 11 million undocumented. I want to hear it from his mouth," said Muniz.
Muniz has said he wants to support Trump, but has not yet decided to vote for him. It is Latinos like him that the campaign hopes to reach, although their numbers are not large.
"It's another dynamic to Donald Trump's style, if he keeps doing it," Muniz said. "Donald Trump is one minute saying devastating things and then he's meeting with the President of Mexico, and that extreme turnaround - it shows if he really wants to repair this thing, he could."