Only Nixon could go to China. Only Nixon was trusted enough to go to China and meet the Chinese without being seen as caving. His supporters and the American public knew exactly where he stood. Any other major American politician going to China would have drawn suspicion and distrust.
Like Nixon going to China, Trump will go to Mexico today to meet with Mexico’s President at that President’s invitation.
Plans came together quickly. Trump will go to California in the morning for a fundraiser, then to Mexico, then spend the evening in Arizona making his pivot on immigration. It will be a pivot. Trump will not say directly, but will leave no doubt through his statements that all 11 million illegal immigrants will not be sent packing.
Therein lies the rub.
Nixon could go to China because not a soul in the United States doubted where he stood on issues related to China. In the past few weeks, Trump has sowed seeds of doubt about his commitment to his hardline immigration policies. When other candidates mocked Trump during the primaries and said there was no way he would deport every illegal, Trump doubled down and his supporters assailed those Republicans as liars.
It now turns out those Republicans were right. Trump has no intention and really never had any intention to deport all 11 million illegal aliens. His supporters have been played the fool and realize it. They are not happy. They may have nowhere else to go in the campaign, but they now know Trump is not as trustworthy as they first thought.
If Trump goes to Mexico and doubled down, he comes off poorly in his first major international context and the American press will eat him alive before low information voters. If Trump comes off well in Mexico and does walk back his position, his supporters who attacked others for saying Trump would do this look foolish.
Nixon could go to China because everyone knew he would not make either himself or his supporters look like fools.
Trump cannot hope to replicate that because he either comes out of Mexico looking foolish or he makes his supporters look like fools. There really is no area of nuance between “throw them all out” and “let some stay.”
There is more to this as well that the American public may not be aware of. Mexican President Peña Nieto and his wife have gone through a series of public scandals in Mexico and appear increasingly corrupt. There have been protests against him and the press has been relentless against President Nieto.
The Mexican President inviting Trump to Mexico sounds very much like the Mexican President is going to try to use this as a way to bolster himself in Mexico. Given the Mexican public’s opinion of Donald Trump that might not end up helping Donald Trump. This whole trip is fraught with risks. The Trump campaign might be able to play it as a statesman like situation, but that would require core competencies the Trump campaign does not seem to possess.
The President of Mexico and Donald Trump may be using each other, but in the end they may end up using up the good grace of both their supporters.