Donald Trump’s visit to Mexico and meeting with President Enrique Peña Nieto could be the start of something big, the Republican presidential nominee’s vice president predicted Wednesday.
Trump, who opened his bid for the presidency by assailing Mexico for allegedly sending rapists and drug dealers across the border, will sandwich a trip to Mexico City today between fundraisers and a speech in Phoenix aimed at clarifying his immigration stance.
And vice presidential candidate Mike Pence told CNN that Trump’s decision to accept Peña Nieto’s invite to the country could be the “beginning ... of a conversation" between the U.S. and Mexico, its third biggest trading partner.
"Negotiations will follow this. But it all precedes out of a relationship," Pence told CNN's "New Day." "And to know Donald Trump is to know not your standard-issue politician, but really a business leader that knows, you've first got to sit down with people. You got to look them in the eye, you've got to tell them where you stand. They can express their positions. That's where real negotiations can begin."
The visit comes ahead of a Trump speech in Phoenix in which he’s expected to clarify whether he’d deport more than 11 million immigrants who are in the United States illegally or retreat on his proposal for a so-called deportation force. Trump and his campaign advisors have offered various explanations of his immigration stance in recent days, exasperating some conservatives who hailed his call to have Mexico pay for a wall at the border.
Peña Nieto invited both presidential candidates to discuss the U.S.-Mexico relationship.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign noted that Trump has portrayed Mexicans as “rapists” and criminals, promised a deportation force to roundup undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and said the U.S. should ban remittances to families in Mexico if it doesn’t pay for the border wall.
“What ultimately matters is what Donald Trump says to voters in Arizona, not Mexico, and whether he remains committed to the splitting up of families and deportation of millions,” said communications director Jennifer Palmieri.
But Pence told CBS that Trump’s trip to Mexico shows the “kind of decisive leader that he will be as president” -- accepting the invite received late last week and deciding to go even as he’s busy on the campaign trail.
Peña Nieto has compared Trump to Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, complaining to the Excelsior newspaper that Trump’s statements about Mexico are “strident expressions that seek to propose very simple solutions” and that his type of language has led to “very fateful scenes in the history of humanity.”
Experts on the region, meanwhile, said they were baffled by the invite after Trump’s fusillade of insults.
“It is inexplicable why President Peña Nieto would proactively lend legitimacy to a candidate who has been continuously hostile to the entire country of Mexico,” said Peter Schechter, director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. “The Trump campaign has made disparaging and vicious claims about Mexico and its people, all of which can now be too easily dismissed given that the leader of that nation has chosen to meet with him. Why would he do this? President Peña Nieto has been very badly advised.”