There’s the Donald Trump who has spent months disparaging Mexicans, vowing to deport all 11 million or so undocumented immigrants and promising to strong-arm Mexico into paying for an impenetrable border wall.
Then there’s the Donald Trump who was almost statesmanlike in a joint press conference Wednesday with Mexico’s president, stressing shared trade and security interests and praising the contributions of “spectacular, hardworking” Mexican-Americans.
Which are we to believe? Which would be president?
His big immigration speech Wednesday night in Phoenix – mere hours after his Mexico City visit – made it plain that the real Trump would much rather scapegoat and demonize immigrants than seek a humane and workable fix to our broken immigration system.
Talking tough, he riled up his supporters, calling for “zero tolerance” and immediate deportation of undocumented immigrants who are criminals and lobbing unfounded claims that President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton backed “open borders.”
Trump mentioned high-profile California cases of people allegedly killed by undocumented immigrants – Kate Steinle last year in San Francisco, Marilyn Pharis last year in Santa Maria, and Placer County sheriff’s Detective Michael Davis and Sacramento County sheriff’s Deputy Danny Oliver in 2014 in Sacramento. He brought on stage “Angel Moms” whose family members were killed by undocumented immigrants. He praised discredited and damaging enforcement programs – Operation Wetback during the Eisenhower administration and Secure Communities from the Obama administration.
And though Trump seems to be trying to fudge his stand on mass deportations, his 10-point plan sure didn’t sound like much “softening.” He opposed any path to citizenship and said undocumented immigrants should return to their home countries and reapply for admission, without making clear whether he still planned to round up and deport families who didn’t leave voluntarily.
Of course, it’s conceivable he could waffle again, depending on which campaign advisers have his ear.
Trump’s surprise trip to Mexico City was apparently designed to show he belonged on the world stage. He called Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto “a friend,” said it was a “great honor” to meet him and declared that a “strong, prosperous and vibrant” Mexico is also in the best interest of the United States.
But before Trump even landed back in the U.S., the two were basically accusing each other of lying. Trump had said that he and Peña Nieto didn’t discuss who would pay for the wall, but Mexico’s president said he told Trump that his country won’t pay. Then in Phoenix, Trump insisted that Mexico will pay for the “tall, powerful, beautiful” wall; it just didn’t know it yet.
Peña Nieto, who looked weak and became even more unpopular at home after the encounter, got a taste of what the Republican nominee is subjecting American voters to daily. And that raises another issue: Based on what happened to Mexico’s president, why would any foreign leader trust Trump?