Donald Trump has detested and derided Mexico without pause since the beginning of his campaign but, when standing arm’s length away from Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Wednesday, Trump looked trapped. With his body slouching and head down, Trump muttered his remarks as he was forced to sparingly compliment the Mexican people. Trump clearly looked like he was feeling, “Do I really have to do this?”
Trump’s act didn’t last long. Less than six hours later, he flew back over the border and touched down on home turf, Arizona. Trump removed his subdued, statesman-like costume that he wore in Mexico and unleashed his hot-blooded, bombastic rhetoric during his much-awaited immigration speech on Wednesday night.
The speech was a failure.
Instead of taking the opportunity to clarify his stance on immigration in a way that would have widened his base of support, Trump doubled down on his rhetoric from the primaries. Trump called for a “new special Deportation Task Force,” indicated President Eisenhower’s “Operation Wetback” didn’t go far enough and, of course, said Mexico would pay for his “great” wall.
Politico reported that some of Trump’s Latino campaign surrogates are now considering revoking their support after Wednesday night’s address. Trump’s speech only cemented his support from the alt-right, which is the antithesis of what he needed to do.
The Washington Post reported that Trump is polling 25 points worse among college-educated white women compared to Mitt Romney in 2012, and Trump cannot afford to continue hemorrhaging support from this election’s deciding demographic. The Trump campaign seemed to be on the right track last week as they tried to rebuild Trump’s image among white women by softening his stance on immigration.
There’s reason to believe that strategy could have been effective: A Fox News poll revealed 77 percent of respondents favored a path to legalization for illegal immigrants, and 36 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to vote for Trump if he softened his stance on illegal immigration.
That strategy is as good as dead. Trump had one chance to firmly pivot from his nativist rhetoric and he blew it. No one is naive enough to think that Trump would have erased over a year of disparaging remarks with one speech on Wednesday night. That wasn’t going to happen.
But, Trump could have made his ideas more approachable. Maybe, just maybe, a revised stance on immigration could have convinced enough white women and Latinos that his values are in line with their values. Surely, most would see through the Trump campaign’s ploy, but Trump needed only a small percentage of new supporters to turn this race into a dead heat.
Kellyanne Conway was brought on to be Trump’s campaign manager for that very purpose. Steven Bannon was hired to ensure that Trump would still be Trump, but Conway was really going to be the one to save Trump’s sinking campaign.
Conway lost her first battle to Bannon. It was Bannon — not Conway — who had the greater influence over Trump’s immigration speech, according to the Washington Post. Wednesday’s speech should have been Conway’s first and largest mark on the campaign, and it should have been the first step on an arduous path to reshaping Trump’s image.
That didn’t happen, and Trump lost his best chance to widen his base of support. Instead, fervent Trump cultist Ann Coulter said “Trump’s immigration speech is the most magnificent speech ever given” and the alt-right rejoiced in unison.