Trump’s a nice guy in Mexico, but he’s the same old caustic Donald at home

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto shakes hands with Donald Trump after a private meeting in Mexico City on Wednesday.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto shakes hands with Donald Trump after a private meeting in Mexico City on Wednesday. AP

If Donald Trump’s quickie visit to Mexico is any indication of the statesmanship Americans can expect from a Trump presidency, we are in for a messy and confusing era of international relations if he’s elected.

For Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who unexpectedly thrust himself into the U.S. presidential campaign by extending the invitation, the event was an embarrassing failure. Mexicans expected their leader to demand an apology from the man he once compared to Hitler and Mussolini for saying Mexico uses the United States as a “dumping ground” for rapists and other criminals, and otherwise disparaging Mexicans immigrants.

“We Mexicans are logically and tremendously angry with Trump,” wrote former Mexico Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda. “He is a detested figure in Mexico.”

Instead, Mexico’s president acted as an unwitting prop in the Trump campaign, playing the role of the good host and sticking to the polite language of diplomacy while defending his people as hard-working and law-abiding. His visitor was glad to play along without yielding or compromising his hardline views on immigration, happy to hold his tongue for once for the sake of a good photo op.

Hours later, the Republican presidential candidate doubled down on his tough immigration plans in a speech in Phoenix.

He called for an end to sanctuary cities, creating a deportation task force and maintaining “zero tolerance for criminal aliens.” No amnesty. And he again insisted that Mexico would pay for the proposed wall he wants to build on this country’s southern border “100 percent.”

That prompted a harsh rebuttal over social media from Mexico’s president. Mr. Peña Nieto said that he opened their private meeting by declaring that Mexico would never pay for it. Mr. Trump, at a brief news conference after the closed talks, said the topic of who would pay never came up.

It hardly matters who’s telling the truth. The staged event was a parody of diplomacy rather than the real thing, a political stunt dreamed up by President Peña Nieto and eagerly accepted by the showman candidate from the United States.

Such trips take weeks to plan and prepare, and nothing is left to chance. This one was hastily arranged and ended in confusion. Nothing was accomplished.

This bizarre episode cannot be understood outside the context of Mexican politics. Mr. Peña Nieto’s popularity hovers around 20 percent, a decades-low figure for any Mexican president. He thought this event would change the topic and elevate his standing by making him look statesmanlike. Wrong. The stunt backfired. He was pelted with criticism from all corners of his country.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump looked strong to his adoring followers, who believe he entered the lion’s den and emerged unscathed, but some of his duped Hispanic supporters quit in disgust over his renewed immigration hardline.

The event clears up one thing: There is no “new Trump,” at least on the issue of immigration. And probably not on other issues, either.

He’s not softening his views, adapting a more presidential stance, moderating his tone or otherwise pondering how presidents behave and how policy is formulated. He will alienate neighbors and allies alike whenever it suits him and he remains uninterested in the intricate details or policy or the fine points of diplomacy..

On the international stage, as in domestic politics, he remains a disrupter and an agent of chaos.