Trump’s political jiu-jitsu in Mexico City
Donald Trump changed the entire momentum of the presidential race yesterday. If he continues on the trail he blazed, he will win the presidency. In the first part of a very busy day of triumph, he flew to Mexico on his private airliner (reminiscent of a head of state’s plane) and laid a strong foundation for a presidential win. If you don’t believe me, ask Howard Wolfson, Hillary Clinton’s 2008 communications director, who praised Trump’s speech in Mexico.
If you believe Trump needed to pivot, moderate and look more Presidential, that event was a home run.— howard wolfson (@howiewolf) August 31, 2016
If a picture is worth a thousand words, this picture shouts “President Trump” more eloquently than any campaign spokesman could.
Not everyone saw the Trump trip to Mexico as a sure thing. Philip Bump of the Washington Post:
What does Trump get out of it? We assume that Peña Nieto will pose for photos with the visiting dignitary (though that seems like a political miscalculation for him). Trump-as-statesman is a new one, and it will be interesting to see how it's handled. That photo itself encapsulates a lot of the risk-reward calculus for Trump: At best he gets a dull picture of himself standing next to a person with whom most Americans aren't familiar; at worst, he gets an awkward picture posing in front of the Mexican flag — something that some part of his base probably won't be thrilled about.
The trip will, at best, show that Trump can go to a foreign country and meet with leaders without incident, a fairly low item on the presidential checklist. (A subject for another time: Do voters actually care about a grip-and-greet?) At worst? Who knows.
Bump is generally a fair-minded and insightful reporter, but I think he was totally wrong, and not just because it all turned out well. Trump has once again used political jiu-jitsu, leveraging his opponents’ criticisms of him as a buffoon, bigot, and worse into the lowest possible expectations. His opponents have so deeply lowered the bar of expectations that avoiding a nasty confrontation would come across as a triumph.
But Trump did far more than avoid trouble in Mexico; he appeared to take charge and to disarm the caricatures of him as an ignoramus and bigot with a poised and presidential bearing in the company of a head of state.
There is a huge pool of voters disgusted with the political establishment but afraid to support Trump because of all the media accounts of him as a monster. That picture of him looking like a head of state, received respectfully by the neighbor supposedly white-hot with resentment of him (and us, by extension), reaches right into the subconscious of these voters with a soothing message of stature and competence.