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Trump scored a one-two punch with that immigration speech

An improbable 24 hours for Donald Trump and his campaign wrapped up Wednesday night with the Republican presidential nominee delivering a one-two punch to many of his critics and those who had written his campaign off for dead.

His much-watched speech on immigration, preceded by his meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, gave Trump the unlikely chance to simultaneously cast himself as more presidential to undecided voters and yet even more fiery and unwavering to his base. And unless you're one of Hillary Clinton's most ardent supporters or a member of the fervently anti-Trump news media, it was quite clear he pulled it off.

Wednesday night's immigration speech by Trump was already going to be watched closely, at least by the media. But after the news frenzy surrounding the Mexican visit dominated the airwaves and the Internet for hours leading up to the speech, it turns out that millions more actual non-media pundit Americans actually watched the speech. And while they saw the same old bombastic Trump persona, they heard him deliver a better and more reasoned message and — this is crucial — they saw and heard it with their own eyes and ears and not through the mainstream media's filter. In short, Trump just tricked the media into letting it allow the public to actually hear his immigration message. And they heard it loud and clear.

Trump's unexpected invitation from Mexico's president turned into a quick meeting and respectful joint news conference that lent instant new credibility to the Trump campaign on both the immigration and foreign-policy issues. Forget about Trump, any non-incumbent presidential candidate is always challenged to look presidential and relevant among foreign leaders. That made the invitation from Peña Nieto pure gold all on its own. But the fact that it came from a man who recently compared Trump to Hitler and the visit occurred just before Trump was set to make this crucial speech was a stroke of luck any campaign would die for.

And then it was time for that speech, which turned out to be mostly about cracking down on criminals who also happen to be illegal immigrants. Say what you want about how Americans feel about peaceful people crossing the border illegally, but no clear-headed American wants more violent criminals coming into this country.

"It has been an improbable and remarkable 24 hours for Team Trump. And anyone who thought Hillary Clinton already had this election sewn up, must now face a new reality."

Trump was wise to begin and continue to pepper his speech with references to several instances of violent crimes committed by illegal aliens with prior criminal records. He sounded like a seasoned politician when he cited legitimate sources.

Very early in the address, he noted: "A 2011 report from the Government Accountability Office found that illegal immigrants and other non-citizens, in our prisons and jails together, had around 25,000 homicide arrests to their names. 25,000."

Later, he made what at least sounded like a plausible promise to fix that problem when he said: "Within ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] I am going to create a new special deportation task force focused on identifying and quickly removing the most dangerous criminal illegal immigrants in America."

Then came a simple and clear list of policy promises. He, of course, promised to build his long-promised wall. He vowed to detain all illegal immigrants caught at our border and send them back to their countries of origin.

He talked about the dicey issue of deportation, but kept it to those illegal immigrants who come to this country with prior criminal records. And then he vowed to end the practice of "catch and release" for illegal immigrants and promised to cut funding to so-called "sanctuary cities."

But Trump still engaged in plenty of demonization. He smartly demonized all politicians for their immigration-policy records, without ever mentioning the words "Democrats" or "Republicans." But of course he did single out his opponent Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama and repeatedly portrayed them as politicians who favored illegal immigrants over American citizens and workers.

But speaking of demonization, it played a role in the speech's finishing coup de grace. Trump closed the night by bringing out more than a dozen parents of American citizens who were murdered by illegal immigrants, many of whom had prior criminal records. It was as if Trump wanted to outdo the Democratic Convention speech that featured the parents of a Muslim-American soldier who died in the Iraq War and dare the news media to demonize these parents even after they excoriated him for demonizing the Muslim parents. It was another instance of a Trump gambit that worked even before it was over.

Wednesday gave Donald Trump the best of both worlds; a priceless photo-op with a foreign leader and maximum attention on his firebrand immigration message.

It has been an improbable and remarkable 24 hours for Team Trump. And anyone who thought Hillary Clinton already had this election sewn up, must now face a new reality.

Commentary by Jake Novak, a senior columnist for CNBC.com. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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