The Donald Trump Show is many things but it’s never dull. As the Republican nominee makes a Mexican detour ahead of a highly anticipated speech meant to expound on and clarify his immigration policy—which may or may not be waffling depending on who one asks—the biggest question on everyone’s mind is: what is he up to?
The Washington Post’s Daniel Drezner puts it bluntly: “Donald Trump is going to Mexico because he is losing.” It’s hard to argue with that assessment. The risk for Trump is huge, and the potential gains are…unclear. In isolation the likeliest best outcome (because there’s no way Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is going to agree to pay for a wall) is that the trip goes off without a hitch and Trump, staying disciplined and on his best behavior, walks away looking vaguely presidential—an image that may run counter to Hillary Clinton’s effort to paint him as temperamentally unfit for the presidency but hardly a compelling argument in and of itself.
This election, though, is unusual not least because of the two candidates involved. As has been repeated since the primary campaigns ended, Trump and Clinton are the two least popular major party nominees in modern history; included in the strategy of both candidates has been the argument that their opponent is unfit for office. In that context a win for Trump is little more than proving he is not as unfit for office as Clinton claims—and perhaps that he is less unfit than she is. It may be the lowest bar ever set in the contest for presidential politics, but with Clinton’s favorables continuing to drop and her recent absence from the campaign trail allowing questions about emails and the Clinton Foundation to grab headlines Trump’s risky Mexican gambit—coming just as the campaign hits its final stretch—could reset the conversation. The question is whether Trump has already wasted too much time flailing for it to matter.