Last night I wrote up my initial thoughts on Trump’s hastily planned trip to Mexico City. With the arrival of a new day, I would say I pretty much stick with all the points I made last night: Trump is embarking on an event over which he will exercise little if any control and cede almost all control to someone whose every interest and desire is to damage him. That violates every rule in the political book. It’s such a self-destructive move that it is extremely tempting to posit some unknown factor, wisdom, knowledge … anything that makes it not seem as stupid as it looks. But Trump’s Razor counsels against this.
All that said, the morning brings some new factual developments worth taking note of.
First, though it’s hardly unexpected, Pena Nieto’s decision to invite Trump to Mexico City has been met by a furious storm of scorn, contempt and derision in the Mexican press and Mexican twitter. Not only at Trump but very much at President Pena Nieto as well. This has been matched in the United States’ Mexican-American immigrant community. This is not surprising, for all the reasons we discussed last night. But it underscores and heightens the pressure the Mexican President will be under to stand up to if not try to humiliate Trump. As noted, Pena Nieto is already very unpopular in Mexico for reasons which have nothing to do with Trump. He’s placed himself in an extremely difficult position. That equals pressure and unpredictability.
This suggests an additional issue. It would be one thing if Pena Nieto had some grand and tightly organized plan to humiliate Trump. But the evidence of the last 24 hours suggests he’s winging it perhaps every bit as much as Trump himself. Having two clumsy political actors together on the same literal and figurative stage in a highly volatile situation is not one geared to good outcomes. It seems to me like you have a good chance that neither player has much of any idea what he’s doing, and Pena Nieto is already under the gun because of the furious reaction to the news that started last night.
This confrontation of panic, confusion and poor planning is magnified by a less noted factor. Organizing a foreign trip for a President or would-be president is a highly complicated affair, especially when you figure in security needs. It never gets done on a day’s notice. We’re now hearing that the US Embassy in Mexico City strongly counseled against the idea. Those folks tend to be quite apolitical and logistics focused. We can’t rule out the possibility that Trump’s entourage shows up at the wrong palace or isn’t able to make it back to Arizona in time for the speech.
I’ve heard it suggested by pro-immigrant, anti-Trump voices that Trump gets into some sort of a dust-up with Pena Nieto, looks presidential and leadery and that burnishes his numbers with suburban Republicans. That doesn’t seem right to me. Heading over to Mexico on a last minute trip and creating a mini-international incident doesn’t seem geared to calm moderate Republican fears that Trump lacks the temperament, judgment or balance to be president. Quite the contrary.
Finally, the best suggestion I’ve seen for why this makes sense is that since Trump is clearly losing, a high risk, high pay-off gambit makes sense. I understand the logic but the premise seems flawed. The Trumpers are operating on the assumption that because this seems so reckless and crazy it must perforce have big potential payoff. In other words, they’re using a formula in which the high probability of an extremely damaging outcome must, mathematically, be balanced by a low probability extremely positive outcome. There is no reason to think that premise is valid. All evidence suggests otherwise.
The best outcome I can see is for an uneventful and generally boring meeting or one in which Trump and Pena Nieto get into a spat or trade insults. The latter seems likely to play marvelously in the Breitbart alt-universe but not well in the general electorate of normal people or more specifically in the slice of educated, suburban white voters, especially women, who now constitute Trump’s critical, must-win-over target.
Other than the basic rule of “don’t place the candidate in a volatile situation you can’t control with someone in charge who wants to damage the candidate”, the issue here is that the people who Trump needs to court are not people looking to Trump for more drama and pyrotechnics from. That’s not the solution; that’s the problem. So it’s searchingly hard to see a potential upside, and equally hard to pick from the limitless number of things that could go wrong.