Donald Trump is going to Mexico, a country he trashed repeatedly on his way to the nomination, to meet its president before a much-awaited speech on immigration later Wednesday.
The Republican nominee, who has tried to tone down his rhetoric on immigration in a bid to court Hispanic voters, said in a tweet he was going at the invitation of President Enrique Pena Nieto.
This will be Trump’s first meeting with a foreign leader as a nominee, and it wasn’t clear what they plan to discuss and achieve, from what is scheduled to be a private discussion.
Nieto extended official invitations to both Trump and the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton last Friday to visit Mexico, according to his office. Only Trump has responded so far.
“I have accepted the invitation of President Enrique Pena Nieto, of Mexico, and look very much forward to meeting him tomorrow,” he wrote in a Tweet on Tuesday night.
On his return, Trump is expected to deliver a high-stakes speech on immigration, an issue that has been central to his campaign and one which has tried to recalibrate in recent weeks.
Trump started out by calling all illegal Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals in his speech announcing his run in June 2015. He stuck by the theme through the primaries.
Trump also attacked his rivals who supported a moderate approach that allowed the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants to stay on after paying back-taxes and fulfilling other conditions.
He spoke of a “deportation force” that he would send out to round up undocumented immigrants and send them back to their countries of origin, if he is elected.
While his tough talk went down well with some Republicans, specially those at the core of his support base — less-educated, less-affluent, white men — others were repulsed.
The party itself was alarmed. At 17% of the population, Hispanics, who account for a large chunk of undocumented immigrants, are the second largest ethnic group in America.
And Trump’s poll numbers are not good among them — between 18% and 32%, the higher number has been disputed. It’s nearly impossible for him to win without their support.
Thus the recent outreach to Hispanics, and toning down of the rhetoric. And thus the visit to Mexico, which, however, is not completely united behind its president in welcoming Trump.
Vicente Fox, a former Mexican president who has had some unkind words — including an expletive — for Trump in the past, has said, “He is not welcome to Mexico.”
The current president Nieto himself has had serious reservations about Trump, and compared his rhetoric to that of Hitler and Mussolini in an interview to a Mexican daily.
And he has stated Mexico will never pay for the wall Trump has threatened to build along the border and make Mexico pay for it, something that is likely to figure in their talks.