It’s become fairly common in recent years for presidential candidates in both parties to visit a foreign country during their campaign, and in some respects, it’s not a bad idea. There’s real value in having the public see candidates, especially those with little foreign-policy experience, engage in some international diplomacy, shake hands with foreign officials, and if all goes well, return home with additional gravitas.
At least, that’s the theory. In practice, as Donald Trump is about to discover, these foreign excursions carry risks, too.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump will meet with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto ahead of a major speech on immigration on Wednesday.The Washington Post first reported that Pena Nieto had extended invitations to both Trump and his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, to travel to Mexico City for a meeting. Trump and the Mexican leader later confirmed the meeting on Twitter.
It’s apparently going to be quite a day for the Republican presidential nominee. Trump is scheduled to deliver a “major speech” in Arizona this evening on immigration policy, which may help address some of the confusion about the candidate’s position, but those remarks will apparently come after Trump’s jaunt to Mexico for a public-relations stunt.
I don’t necessarily mean that in a pejorative way; plenty of successful national campaigns have used public-relations stunts to great effect over the years. But there can be no doubt that Trump intends to take a brief sojourn to Mexico City because he hopes the time investment will pay electoral dividends.
The question, of course, is whether those benefits will actually materialize. The odds are against it.
1. Trump has repeatedly trashed Mexico and Mexicans. In case no one’s noticed, Trump hasn’t exactly been generous in his praise of our neighbors to the South. Today’s trip creates an opportunity to revisit all of the ugly comments the GOP candidate has made about Mexico and Mexicans, which has cost him considerable support among U.S. Latinos.
2. Nieto has his own domestic politics to consider. There’s ample evidence that Trump is deeply unpopular in Mexico, so its president has no incentive to be a warm, welcoming host. On the contrary, Nieto, who has his own domestic political problems to deal with, would very likely get a boost in his home country by making every effort to embarrass Trump publicly. (Remember, earlier this year, Nieto compared Trump to Hitler.)
3. Failure is an option. Trump actually seems to believe he can go to Mexico, initiate some substantive negotiations, and push Mexican officials into making some concessions. If those efforts come up short, as appears likely, the Republican who assures voters he can convince Mexico to pay for a border wall will be stuck with another election-year failure.
4. There’s no realistic way this will alter the presidential race. I’m trying to think of the U.S. constituency that will say, “I was skeptical of Trump before, but now that he’s made a brief, last-minute trip to Mexico, where he’s widely loathed, I’m starting to see him as a statesman.” It’s exceedingly unlikely that such voters exist.
If the point of today’s trip is to get Trump some fresh headlines, there’s little doubt the Republican will dominate the news cycle (again). But if Trump seriously expects broader electoral benefits from his brief trip across the border, he should probably start lowering his expectations.