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Trump failed as leader in Mexico visit, former ambassador says

Aside from getting a good photo opportunity, Donald Trump did a very poor job when he went to Mexico to meet with its president, former ambassador Jeffrey Davidow told CNBC on Thursday.

"I think in terms of the optics, he got exactly what he wanted. He went to Mexico, got a cup of coffee, ate a doughnut, got a really good photo op. But in terms of demonstrating that he's a leader, I think he failed. I can only imagine what will happen when he sits down with Vladimir Putin," Davidow, who served as ambassador to Mexico under President Bill Clinton, said in an interview with "Closing Bell."

Trump met with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in Mexico on Wednesday and in a subsequent news conference touted five "shared goals" for the two countries.

President of Mexico Enrique Pena Nieto walks along with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump after a meeting at Los Pinos on August 31, 2016, in Mexico City.
Hector Vivas | LatinContent | Getty Images
President of Mexico Enrique Pena Nieto walks along with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump after a meeting at Los Pinos on August 31, 2016, in Mexico City.

However, there was a dispute over whether the pair discussed who would pay for the Republican nominee's proposed border wall. In the news conference, Trump said payment wasn't discussed. However, afterward Pena Nieto tweeted that he told the billionaire that Mexico would not pay for it.

Trump's spokesperson responded by saying, "It was not a negotiation, and that would have been inappropriate."

However, Davidow told CNBC, "This is the time that you lay it on the table. If you really think you're a great dealmaker, this is the time when you start negotiating the deal. I didn't see any of that."

Things that Trump has been proposing, like payment for the wall, renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement and stopping American business from going to Mexico, should have been raised in a "respectful" fashion with Pena Nieto, he added.

As for why the Mexican president would want to meet with someone who appears to be hostile toward the country, Davidow believes Pena Nieto wanted to get Mexico's side out to the American public.

"If you listen carefully to what he said at the press conference, he presented a really cogent picture of the importance of a friendly Mexico to the U.S. but he didn't say it very well. It got lost in the shuffle of the translation and was overwhelmed by the optics of the event," he said.

In a speech later Wednesday evening, Trump ditched the softer tone he employed during his news conference in Mexico. With renewed bluster, he reiterated his vow to make Mexico pay for the wall and outlined his plan to crack down on immigration.

— CNBC's Jacob Pramuk contributed to this report.