Donald Trump has spent over a year traveling across the country, telling anyone who will listen that he would build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and make the Mexican government pay for it. Building a wall has been one of the few positions he hasn't changed over the course of his campaign.
Trump has consistently brushed off questions of how he would actually get Mexico to pay the $10 billion he says would be needed to construct his wall. Time and again, he has insisted he would be able to cut a deal with the Mexican government, citing his negotiating skills and parroting principles outlined in his book The Art of the Deal.
But on Wednesday, when Trump flew to Mexico City to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto, the Republican nominee could have laid the groundwork for implementing his signature campaign proposal. He could have told Peña Nieto he intends to make good on his promise to voters and make Mexico foot the bill should he be elected president.
What did he do instead? He said he didn't even bring it up.
"Who pays for the wall? We didn't discuss that," Trump said during an appearance with Peña Nieto after the meeting.
Shortly after their appearance, a spokesman for Peña Nieto said the issue had indeed been raised, with the Mexican president telling Trump his country would not pay for the wall.
The Mexican president himself then tweeted he had indeed told Trump at the beginning of their meeting that Mexico wouldn't pay.
So, either Trump is lying, Peña Nieto is lying or something got lost in translation. Trump's insistence that "we didn't discuss it" indicates that he at least did not push back against Peña Nieto if he did in fact tell Trump Mexico wouldn't pay.
In any event, Trump's decision not to push the issue in public could be taken as a sign that he recognizes the political benefit in backing off his hardline position in an attempt to win over more moderate white voters. It could also be the case that Trump sees the wisdom in waiting until he's president and negotiating from a position of strength before pressing Mexico on paying for his wall.
But the most likely explanation is Trump has no firm convictions on anything relating to actual policy and thinks most Americans are too dumb to see through his transparent pandering. He's willing to tell voters that Mexico will pay for the wall but not force the issue when he is in the room with Mexican president himself — because he will tell anyone what he thinks they want to hear. He says one thing in public, and another behind closed doors.
Trump's waffling on the border wall is in line with a long pattern of duplicity throughout his career and public life. He billed Trump University as a school where students could learn how to be a real estate titan like himself, but it was actually a predatory scheme that cost $35,000 and gives students little to nothing of value in the labor market. He said he had donated $1 million to veterans, but didn't hand over the cash until the press started asking around.
Trump's supporters might not care that he didn't put Peña Nieto in the hot seat in his own presidential mansion. But Wednesday was further proof of what has become more and more apparent throughout the course of this campaign: Trump selling America a bill of goods that he has no intention of living up to.