Trailing Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Turns to Political Gymnastics

ALEXANDER BURNSMAGGIE HABERMAN Thursday, September 1, 2016Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 10.16.42

Good Thursday morning.
Donald J. Trump’s campaign was teetering early last month, with an increasingly isolated candidate and a downcast staff that seemed to lurch from crisis to crisis. Having fired his campaign chairman and retooled his message, Mr. Trump was still far behind Hillary Clinton in the polls, and Republicans were running away from him.
Under those desperate conditions, Mr. Trump’s closest allies last month pressed himto approve a daring plan: Go to Mexico and meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto, presenting himself to the world as a statesman and earning a new look from millions of American voters.
But the political gymnastics involved in Mr. Trump’s gambit will most likely be difficult to sustain: His approach involves avoiding discussion of his former campaign pledges without renouncing them, and making ostentatious gestures of conciliation toward Hispanic voters and Mexicans without withdrawing remarks that have offended them in the past.
In the space of a few hours on Wednesday, Mr. Trump veered from avoiding a clash with Mr. Peña Nieto over his proposal for a border wall, to goading an Arizona crowd into chants about constructing the barrier.
If winning over people who view him as a racially divisive or reckless candidate would seem to require a dizzying political reinvention, it is far from certain that Mr. Trump is prepared to transform himself so thoroughly.
He appeared solicitous, even pleading, in his visit to Mexico City, shirking confrontation with Mr. Peña Nieto and reading slowly from a cautious, tightly phrased statement that described his admiration for Americans of Mexican descent.
In Arizona, Mr. Trump made his most brazen attempt yet to back away from his pledge to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants, denouncing illegal immigration in vehement terms, while at the same time revising his policy agenda. Where he has, in the past, suggested creating a special force to achieve that goal, Mr. Trump said on Wednesday that a new “deportation task force” would focus on rounding up only the “most dangerous criminal illegal immigrants.”
Mr. Trump has already sought several times to reboot his campaign and reintroduce himself to general-election voters, many of whom hold him in low regard. On Wednesday night, as the crowd in Phoenix grew more energized, he could not resist returning to his fiery form. And Mr. Trump, as is his pattern, created confusion for even his closest supporters, as he appeared to embrace opposite sides of important issues as the day unfolded.
Donald J. Trump and President Enrique Peña Nieto held a joint press conference in Mexico City on Wednesday.

Rodrigo Cruz for The New York Times

The Republican nominee said he and the Mexican president did not discuss financing for a border wall, but his host said later that he had made it clear that Mexico would not pay.

Donald J. Trump in Phoenix, where he delivered a speech on immigration Wednesday evening.

Travis Dove for The New York Times

His proposals include ending so-called sanctuary cities, assembling a deportation task force, maintaining “zero tolerance for criminal aliens” and putting up a wall.

Travis Dove for The New York Times

Here’s a look at how the Republican candidate’s positions on immigration have changed, or remained the same, throughout the campaign.

President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Donald J. Trump at a joint news conference on Wednesday in Mexico City.

Yuri Cortez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In a quick visit to Mexico, the candidate did something he had failed to do in his campaign: communicate provocative ideas with something resembling diplomacy.

President Enrique Peña Nieto this month at the National Palace in Mexico City. He has been criticized for setting up a meeting with Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee.

Henry Romero/Reuters

Many Mexican citizens are angry that President Enrique Peña Nieto would meet with Mr. Trump, let alone extend him an invitation.

Donald J. Trump before his speech on immigration in Phoenix on Wednesday.

Travis Dove for The New York Times

Mr. Trump delivered a speech in Phoenix on Wednesday that was supposed to clarify his shifting stance on hard-line immigration policies, after a trip to Mexico to speak with President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Former President Vicente Fox met with international reporters at a Mexico City hotel in September 2014.

Vicente Fox, Ex-President of Mexico, Scoffs at Donald Trump’s Visit


“He is not welcome to Mexico,” Mr. Fox said ahead of the Republican nominee’s planned visit on Wednesday. “We don’t want him. We reject his visit.”

On the Trail

Mr. Trump will speak at an American Legion conference in Ohio.
Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia will campaign in New Hampshire.
Neither Mrs. Clinton nor Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana has public events on the schedule.
Hillary Clinton spoke on Wednesday to the American Legion’s national convention in Cincinnati.

Hillary Clinton, Swiping at Donald Trump, Argues U.S. Is Vital World Leader


At the American Legion’s national convention, Mrs. Clinton championed the notion of American exceptionalism, a concept more traditionally embraced by Republicans.


Democrats’ Edge in Voter Registration Is Declining, but Looks Can Be Deceiving


The party is registering more new voters than the G.O.P., and its overall losses aren’t affecting the actual vote as much as some might think.

Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic minority leader who is retiring, has lamented the inability of a stalemated Congress to take on big issues.

A Democratic Senate Might Need to Curtail Filibuster, Harry Reid Says


The retiring Democratic leader said that his party should take drastic action if it is triumphant at the polls only to be blocked by Republican-led gridlock.

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Obama Heads to Asia Seeking Breakthrough on Trade and Climate Change


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A deadlocked court refused to revive parts of the law that a federal appeals court had struck down as an effort to “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”

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The last time that an airline in the United States had a regularly scheduled flight to the island, the passengers flew on a propeller plane.

Anthony Weiner in August 2013, after he participated in a forum for the New York mayoral candidates.

Anthony Weiner, Who Always Had Something to Say, Goes Silent


After being caught for a third time sending lewd messages on social media, the former congressman is uncertain about his future, friends say.

What We’re Reading Elsewhere

The Washington Post says that, though the news that Russian hackers had breached voting rolls in some states caused fear of meddling in the election, there is “almost no chance” the election could be falsely swayed by hackers. The Postalso writes, however, “here’s how Russian hackers could actually tip an American election.”
The Atlantic argues that, in her “American exceptionalism” speech, “Hillary Clinton champions a concept the Republican Party has embraced and Donald Trump has disavowed.”
Bloomberg writes that if Mrs. Clinton wins she is likely to have to rely on executive actions even more than President Obama has.