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On Thursday, The Washington Post published previously undisclosed transcripts from President Trump’s conversations with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The two heated exchanges provided extraordinary insight into Trump’s approach to diplomacy. Trump went back and forth with the Mexican president on which country will pay for the border wall, telling him that the best solution is to stop discussing the issue. Trump became exasperated with Australia’s prime minister when Turnbull insisted that Trump would have to honor a deal signed by President Barack Obama that the United States would accept refugees detained by Australia.
But perhaps one of the most fascinating takeaways from the conversations was Trump’s focus on his political successes and image, not the policy issues the two foreign leaders attempted to steer the conversations toward.
Here’s what Trump said:
To Peña Nieto:
1. “I won with a large percentage of Hispanic voters. I do not know if you heard, but with Cuba, I had 84 percent, with the Cuban-American vote.”
Although Trump likes to tout his numbers, this is not entirely accurate. Trump got 28 percent of the Latino vote, according to exit polling. Trump did as well as Mitt Romney and worse than John McCain; Hillary Clinton lost some votes to third-party candidates and therefore did worse than Barack Obama. Trump is reaching when he says he won a large percentage.
2. “They are sending drugs to Chicago, Los Angeles and to New York. Up in New Hampshire — I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den — is coming from the southern border.”
Trump won the New Hampshire Republican primary, but it was actually Clinton who was declared the winner of New Hampshire in the presidential race — six days after she lost the election. New Hampshire has been hit particularly hard by heroin and prescription drug abuse. The state also has the highest synthetic opioid death rate in the country. But it’s hard to say that Trump won the primary because of New Hampshire’s drug crisis.
3. “But you cannot say anymore that the United States is going to pay for the wall. I am just going to say that we are working it out.”
Trump wants Peña Nieto to stop saying that Mexico will not pay for the wall. He tells him that if he stays quiet, it will all “come out in the wash,” suggesting that Mexico, ultimately, will not pay.
4. “I know how to build very inexpensively, so it will be much lower than these numbers I am being presented with, and it will be a better wall and it will look nice. And it will do the job.”
Trump previously said the wall would cost $8 billion, but the Department of Homeland Security estimates that it will cost $21.6 billion. Trump expressed his intention to build the border wall as far back as his speech announcing his candidacy for president, using almost the same language: “I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively.”
5. “This is going to kill me. I am the world’s greatest person that does not want to let people into the country. And now I am agreeing to take 2,000 people and I agree I can vet them, but that puts me in a bad position. It makes me look so bad and I have only been here a week.”
Trump is discussing the refugee resettlement deal signed under the Obama administration in 2016. The previous day, Trump signed the travel ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries entering the United States, and he is lamenting the political optics of turning around and allowing in so many migrants from Australia.
Australia’s policy, which bans entry to individuals who attempt to reach the country by boat, has been criticized by human rights groups as harsh and xenophobic.
6. “I will be seen as a weak and ineffective leader in my first week by these people. This is a killer.”
Weakness is probably the worst quality to have in the Trump administration. During the campaign, Trump criticized Clinton for her lack of “mental and physical stamina” to defeat the Islamic State. He’s also praised Russian President Vladimir Putin as a strong leader.
7. “Look, I do not know how you got them to sign a deal like this, but that is how they lost the election. They said I had no way to 270, and I got 306.”
As with the Mexican president, Trump brings up the election. And this time he mentions the electoral college, and even here he is wrong. Trump won 304 electoral votes, not 306.
8. “I have had it. I have been making these calls all day, and this is the most unpleasant call all day. Putin was a pleasant call. This is ridiculous.”
Introductory calls between foreign leaders are intended to be cordial, but Trump abruptly ends the call with Turnbull after the heated exchange.
Sections of this national security brief were included in the full transcript. Go here to see the full exchanges.