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Donald Trump’s last-minute meeting with Mexico’s president, explained

Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Donald Trump is going to Mexico.

Late Tuesday night, the Republican nominee accepted Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto’s offer to privately meet at the presidential palace in Mexico City on Wednesday, in what will be Trump’s first official meeting with a head of state as a presidential candidate.

The United States’ relationship with Mexico has played a big role in Trump’s campaign; the candidate has repeatedly called Mexico an "enemy," accused them of taking American jobs, and suggested when announcing his presidential bid that the Mexican government was purposefully sending drug dealers and rapists over the border.

The meeting will come on the heels of the Trump campaign’s "immigration week," with rallies ostensibly dedicated to refining Trump’s immigration policies — even though Trump hasn't clearly laid out his plans yet. In the past week, the campaign has hinted Trump might "soften" some of his policies on the border, changing the wall to a virtual fence and rolling back the concept of mass deportations.

The Trump campaign denies reports that the candidate is flip-flopping on any policy issues. Notably on his Mexico trip, Trump will be joined by his adviser Sen. Jeff Sessions — one of the Senate’s harshest immigration critics — and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Trump is expected to clarify his immigration policies at his Wednesday night rally in Phoenix, Arizona, now scheduled directly after his visit with Nieto. Whether his Mexico visit will sway his positions on policies remains to be seen. But as the first meeting with a foreign head of state, this will certainly be Trump’s first major opportunity to walk the talk as a political negotiator.

Trump’s new campaign leadership was keen on the visit

President Nieto invited both Trump and Hillary Clinton for a private visit to Mexico last week, according to Nieto’s official Twitter account.

According to reports from the Washington Post, Nieto’s invitation was well received by the Trump campaign as an opportunity to show Trump’s ability to sit down with state leaders.

According to reporting from the Washington Post — which first broke the news about Trump’s visit Tuesday night — Trump’s campaign CEO and Breitbart News executive Stephen Bannon played a large role in setting up Trump’s Mexico visit. The Post’s Robert Costa reported that Bannon saw the need for Trump to "underscore his populist immigration views in the final weeks of the general-election campaign, perhaps with an audacious gesture."

Trump agreed to the visit over the weekend, and his campaign is still in talks with Mexican officials to ensure a secure trip, Costa reported. The visit is scheduled between a morning fundraising event in California and an evening rally in Arizona where Trump is expected to expand on his immigration policies.

Clinton’s campaign said they are looking for an "appropriate time" to meet with Nieto, noting that her campaign has been in constant communication with Mexican officials, according to a statement obtained by the Washington Post.

Trump has a long history of insulting Mexico, and Mexico has noticed

Trump has a particularly ugly track record on Mexico. He has accused the Mexican government of sending criminals to the United States and plans to build a physical wall on the United States-Mexican border, which he says the Mexican government is going to pay for. (In July, President Nieto said there was "no way" Mexico was going to pay for the wall. However, Trump continues to use the line at his rallies.)

Trump has repeatedly called Mexico an "enemy" to the United States, attacking them for "killing" the United States on trade and stealing American jobs. Earlier in the campaign he proposed slapping a 35 percent tariff on imported products from American companies that have outsourced their jobs to Mexico (which economists say will undoubtedly lead to an economic downturn) and has also vowed to dismantle the North American Free Trade Agreement, which heralded an era of increased US investment in Mexico.

This is not to mention Trump’s outburst of racially charged comments, like when he waged a feud with American-born federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel for being "Mexican." And let’s never forget the great Cinco de Mayo taco bowl tweet.

Current Mexican officials have largely remained quiet throughout Trump’s campaign. However, Nieto has been known for some feisty outbursts, likening Trump’s "strident" populist tone to that of Adolf Hitler’s and Benito Mussolini’s. In June, Nieto clarified the comparison, noting that he only meant his remarks as "a call for reflection and for recognition, so that we bear in mind what we have achieved and the great deal still to achieve."

"Hitler, Mussolini, we all know the result," Nieto said. Nevertheless, Nieto said he extended the invitation to Trump because of his belief in dialogue.

However, former Mexican President Vicente Fox, who once said in an interview he wouldn’t pay for "that fucking wall," called Nieto’s decision to invite Trump a "mistake."

"No turning back, Trump, your offenses toward Mexicans, Muslims and more, you have dug the hole where you are today. Goodbye, Trump!" Fox tweeted Tuesday.

This is one of Trump’s first opportunities to walk the talk

Above all else, Trump claims his qualifications for the presidency are first and foremost his abilities as a master dealmaker — someone who will be able to negotiate a better future for the American people.

Having spent the last year deriding Mexico for "killing" the American economy, putting Americans in danger, and propping up anti-immigrant and racist voices, this meeting with Nieto may very well prove to be a make it or break it moment for Trump.

After a week of uncertainty over Trump’s immigration policies, on CNN’s New Day Wednesday morning Trump’s running mate Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said Trump will stay true his proposal to build a border wall at the meeting with Nieto.

"Make no mistake about it, I'm very confident that my running mate will be very clear with president Peña Nieto about our priority of securing the border, building a wall," Pence said. "Making it clear that that we are going to have a new administration that deals with, confronts not only illegal immigration, but the flood of drugs and the heartbreak of human tragedy trafficking that's coming across our borders."

However the conversation goes, one thing is clear — Trump will likely use the meeting as an affirmation of his own deal-making abilities.

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