by Joel Pollak
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump appeared alongside Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto on Wednesday after a private meeting and reiterated that “both sovereign countries” have the right to build a wall along their join border.
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Asked by journalists whether they had determined who would pay for the wall, Trump said: “We didn’t discuss.” The media pounced on that statement after the conference ended, with CNN’s Paul Begala ecstatically imagining Trump’s outraged fans.
What Begala does not understand is the coup Trump pulled off: he re-framed the entire discussion about the border. By saying that the payment for the wall was a topic for later discussion, Trump implied that there was agreement about the wall itself — and President Nieto did not contradict him.
It was not a permanent diplomatic agreement, but if Trump wins the presidency, he will be able to refer back to this meeting and press conference as a baseline for pushing his plan for the wall forward.
Much of the commentary after the conference also emphasized Trump’s calm, respectful and diplomatic tone. Combined with his willingness to answer questions from reporters — something Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has avoided for 270 days at home, never mind abroad — the effect was to convince skeptical observers that Trump was capable of being presidential, after all. CNN’s Ana Navarro, often a critic of Trump, said it looked as though he had a “personality transplant.” The bottom line is that people believe what they see, and Clinton will not be able to convince us to un-see Trump in Mexico.
The needle that Trump had to thread in Mexico was projecting a softer, diplomatic persona while at the same time standing up to the Mexican president in his presence. He did it — and won major diplomatic gains in the process.