Did the trip to Mexico pay off for Donald Trump?

Reaction from the 'Special Report' All-Star panel


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," August 31, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


MEXICAN PRESIDENT ENRIQUE PENA NIETO (via translator): Mexicans and the United States are honest and hardworking people. They're persons that are decent, that respect family, life and community, and that respect the law. As such, Mexicans deserve everyone's respect.

DONALD TRUMP, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We recognize and respect the right of either country to build a physical barrier or wall on any of its boarders to stop the illegal movement of people, drugs, and weapons.


CHRIS WALLACE, GUEST ANCHOR: Donald Trump and Mexican President Pena Nieto after their meeting today. Let's bring in our panel: Steve Hayes, from The Weekly Standard; Amy Walter, of The Cook Political Report, Fox News media analyst and host of Fox's "MediaBuzz" Howard Kurtz, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Charles, it seems to me that Trump was taking quite a risk today hold thing meeting with the Mexican president with so little preparation. Pena Nieto could have roasted him, but in fact it was respectful, it was diplomatic, and it put Trump on the international stage. Do you think it will help him?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Yes. He took a risk and he pulled it off.

Look, the big negative about Trump, the thing that the Clinton campaign plays on, is the fact that it's hard to imagine him as president. Being presidential is a thing he's been trying to do, his staff has been trying to get from him for the last six months.

Now here he is, standing on the world stage, with a world leader. This is a big step. He not only held his own, I think in some ways he sort of dominated. The Mexican president was rather defensive, asking for respect. Trump, I thought, spoke well.

And then if you noticed at the very end when they took questions, it was Trump who took charge. He is sitting in the palace of the president of Mexico. This never happens. Normally, it's the host who picks the journalists. Trump took charge naturally, walked off the stage as the dominant guy. He pulled it off. I think he really helped himself.

WALLACE: I'm going to ask the control room, put up the still picture that I asked for, because it seems to me this is one of the big takeaways from this meeting today. There it goes. And it seems to me that this is kind of worth its weight in gold, Steve. There you have President Pena Nieto, and, as Charles says, almost like an equal, Donald Trump on a presidential stage.

Interestingly enough, after the meeting in the news conference, Trump said that, yes, they discussed the wall. They did not discuss how to pay for it. On the other hand, I will tell you that the presidential spokesman for Pena Nieto just put out word said, in fact, the Mexican president told him Mexico would not pay for that. Having said all of that, your reaction?

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I agree with Charles. I think this is the single best day of the general election campaign for Donald Trump, because, as Charles said, this was Hillary Clinton's goal was to other-ize Donald Trump. Remember in the early stages of the general election campaign, she attacked him more or less as a typical Republican. He's going to lower your taxes, he favors the wealthy, bad Supreme Court choices, women's choice will be taken away. And then she turned at the Democratic Convention and decided to make Donald Trump unacceptable. He couldn't be commander in chief. He's unfit to serve as president, trying to make him look dangerous, a threat, really, to the future of the republic.

And what you saw today was Trump not only standing with a would-be ally or a traditional ally, but an ally whose citizens he basically attacked again and again and again for the better part of the last year, and to pull it off, and to seem calm and rational.

WALLACE: Does the fact that Trump said they didn't discuss who was going to pay for it and Pena Nieto's spokesman says they did, does that make a difference?

HAYES: Of course it makes a difference, but it doesn't matter nearly as much as the picture you just showed and the broader news coming out of there. I think it will actually matter, this appearance down there will end up mattering a lot more than what we hear tonight in the speech.

WALLACE: Let's talk about that, because Trump's hardline on immigration helped him big-time during the Republican primaries. But I want to put up some numbers from this new FOX poll which may indicate why there's such an effort to pivot on this. What should happen, the pollsters asked, to illegal immigrants working in the U.S.? And 77 percent said legalize them, only 19 percent say deport them. Amy, is that what Trump's apparent softening on this issue is all about?

AMY WALTER, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Certainly. This is the pivoting that we've been hearing he was going to be making since May. And every time there was a pivot then there was a -- I guess I'm going to mix my metaphors, but he would shoot himself in his pivot foot, OK.

And then he would -- we would make the case that, well, the next time he's going to make the pivot, and the next time this is going to stick and he's going to be a general election candidate. Then he went into the convention and he basically went on a message that was all about the primary. He was doing nothing to suggest that he was speaking to general election voters. Now, finally, this many weeks after the convention, he is trying to talk to general election voters.

I agree with both of my colleagues here that going down there was a big risk, but it was a risk that looks like it has paid off. The question I think that so many voters have, especially voters I talk to, is whether this is going to stick. Is the Donald Trump we saw down in Mexico today the one who looked presidential, the one who seemed to be commanding the stage, the same person we're going to see a week from now or a few days from now? And many voters have concluded, at least the ones that I've been listening to, that it's just not going to change. Ultimately the person that we saw before this meeting, before the primaries, during the primaries, is the person that we're going to see throughout the rest of the campaign.

WALLACE: What we're going to see first is a speech later tonight, the much ballyhooed speech, in which Trump is going to lay out his immigration plan. Howie, from what we've heard over the last week, not only from Trump but from all of his top advisers, his running mate, what do you expect to hear tonight?

HOWARD KURTZ, FOX NEWS MEDIA ANALYST: First I'm trying not to fall off my chair hearing Charles and Steve saying positive things about Donald Trump. He really had a good day. And it shows his gambler's instinct, his showman's instinct in taking a kind of risk that you never see Hillary Clinton taking in this campaign.

As far as his speech tonight, I think even though there's been a lot of messiness, different surrogates sending different messages, Mike Huckabee is not a top Trump surrogate, said on my shows Sunday that Trump realizes it's utterly impractical to try to deport 11 million people, to just round them up. That's not going to happen. Indeed, that's not going to happen, I believe. But I think we'll hear a lot of tough talk about the wall and back taxes and this isn't amnesty. But by meeting with Pena Nieto today and pulling off, the fact that Trump will, in effect, probably in my view confirm that there isn't going to be any mass deportations I think will become the secondary story and so it won't hurt him as much.

WALLACE: I want to ask about it, because when I was talking to Kellyanne Conway, the new campaign manager, over the weekend, she basically was saying, look, we're going the build the wall, we're going to set up e- verify, all these various measure, we're going to get rid of the bad guys, almost like we're going to put off the issue of what happens to legal immigrants until we see where we are. Will that work and will that be enough for his base support?

KURTZ: I'm not sure that his base has anywhere else to go at this point. If you feel really, really strongly about the issue of illegal immigration you were probably for Donald Trump. And at the same time, what he's trying to do is expand that base to people that think the idea of kicking 11 million people out even though they're here illegally was crazy, who were fearful of Donald Trump being a hothead on the international stage. So this could turn out to be not just a good day for Donald Trump but something that doesn't necessarily bring him a lot more Latino votes but other kinds of voters as well.

WALLACE: Real quick, Steve?

HAYES: I think he's not likely to lose a ton of people, but I do think it will matter to some people in the base for whom illegal immigration is the signature issue. The bigger question is whether he erodes his brand as being this tough guy, outspoken, say anything, sort of damn the consequences guy. And I think that's probably the bigger risk.

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