Even Trump’s Detractors say Visit to Mexico Made Candidate Look ‘Presidential’ and Made Hillary Look Bad

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto arrive for a press conference at the Los Pinos residence in Mexico City, Mexico, August 31, 2016. (Henry Romero | Reuters)
U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto arrive for a press conference at the Los Pinos residence in Mexico City, Mexico, August 31, 2016. (Henry Romero | Reuters)

by Jake Novak

Just when it seemed like the negative image of Donald Trump as a xenophobic, racist, and cartoonish excuse for a presidential candidate was permanently stained into most of the voters’ minds, someone on his campaign staff had the brilliant idea to accept the invitation to meet Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico City.

And now that the meeting is over, and both Trump and Nieto have made their formal statements, it’s clear Trump has been given a crucial presidential-looking shot in the arm from perhaps the one foreign leader we least expected to give it to him. But that’s not where the positives for Trump end, not by a long shot.

Suddenly, we now have a new context for Trump’s long-awaited speech on immigration. Before the meeting, Trump was facing a tough challenge. Several conservatives, and even one of his most ardent supporters in Ann Coulter, had been getting much attention as they accused Trump of flip-flopping on illegal immigration and especially the deportation question. There are reports the Trump campaign is hoping to gloss over deportation at least somewhat by focusing on securing the southern border with Mexico instead. That seems like it might be a tough needle to thread. But now that Trump is making the speech coming directly from that border, that new focus suddenly becomes more plausible.

The buzz is now about the Mexico meeting and fewer people are talking about deportation. And since President Peña Nieto himself made border security part of his own set of priorities in his portion of the news conference, this entire event is amounting to something of a home run for Trump and his quest for legitimacy.

Some pundits actually thought Peña Nieto would use this opportunity to bash Trump right to his face. That didn’t happen. And Trump, for his part, seemed more sober and sagacious than ever.

And in the face of the new flip-flopping accusations from all sides, Trump now has bragging rights that he accepted the Mexican president’s invitation to meet and Hillary Clinton has not. Trump can now say he obviously takes this issue much more seriously than his opponent. Some might even cast it as an “only Nixon could go to China” type moment.

And that brings us to the biggest reason why Donald Trump’s surprise decision to go to Mexico was a good move: It’s making Hillary Clinton look bad.

It’s the latest evidence that what appears to be Hillary’s “hide and let Trump sink himself” campaign strategy isn’t so smart after all. Starting with his visit to flood-ravaged Louisiana and now this Mexico trip, Trump has now taken advantage of his uncontested media attention twice this month to get out of his previous campaign pattern and do something that looks presidential and makes Clinton look embarrassingly absent. And the polls have recently been tightening as a result.

No matter how inept you think your opponent is, allowing him or her to dominate the news means that if they suddenly do something smart or positive, it will be amplified exponentially. Making matters worse, it’s not like Trump pushed to get this meeting all on his own. President Peña Nieto invited both Trump and Clinton to meet with him to discuss immigration, and now it will look sort of like a pathetic game of catch up if Hillary accepts and meets with him second.


Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of “Power Lunch.” Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.