Spanish – Brash in Mexico City but peaceful in D.C., that is how one can describe the attitude of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) who made his most sensible move since he took office as the Mexican President: a cordial and peaceful meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. The latter not only received AMLO warmly but also praised him.
The meeting was part of an agreement signed by both countries, renewing the partnership between Mexico and the U.S. to promote economic growth, employment, and prosperity between Mexicans and Americans alike.
The United States' partnership with Mexico—which promotes economic growth, jobs, and prosperity for the American and Mexican people alike—was renewed and reaffirmed today at the White House! ?? ??
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) July 9, 2020
For many, the affinity between AMLO and Trump was surprising, but it makes perfect sense from a political point of view: both presidents are being questioned intensely—each in his own context—and a diplomatic meeting between neighbors is always effective when it comes to impacting public opinion.
On the one hand, López Obrador shows himself to be a sensible guy, capable of leaving political differences behind to show his gratitude to his counterpart in the U.S.: “I am grateful that your president has treated us with kindness and respect,” the Mexican president said. Trump, on the other hand, had more words of praise for AMLO. “He is the best president Mexico has ever had,” said the U.S. president at a dinner with Mexican and U.S. entrepreneurs.
The friendly “summit” was so surprising that the Democrats were undoubtedly taken by surprise. In fact, they called the meeting a distraction from the pandemic and an electoral endorsement of Trump. And indeed, the Mexican did not hesitate to go to the Democrats. His intention and that of his advisors was clear: to approach the Republicans and Trump to get some much-needed political leverage.
How does Trump benefit? He does in several ways. Hence, his political move is considered a success. First, he caught the media and his opponents, who were expecting disagreements between him and AMLO, off guard; second, he appealed to the “Mexican” American vote—Americans of Mexican descent—in the run-up to the elections; and third, like López Obrador, he demonstrated that he is capable of leaving political differences behind to achieve benefits for his country.
In short, the political, economic, and social circumstances made it possible for the meeting to take place in this way. It suited both sides, and they made it work.
Why AMLO didn’t approach the Democrats
It is interesting to point out the best-known aspects of the meeting between López Obrador and Trump and his visit to the U.S. capital, his speech, the photo with Lincoln, and the praise received. However, probably the most important thing that AMLO did was precisely what he did not do: he did not meet with the Democrats.
The economist and analyst Guillermo Barba spoke to the PanAm Post regarding this issue. He described AMLO’s actions as “a very careful diplomatic mission.” Approaching the Democrats would have been a political mistake, in this case, Trump could have misperceived it, the economist said.
“Why didn’t AMLO approach the Democrats? Precisely because having approached the Democrats could have been perceived as a snub by Donald Trump, a lack of political tact. It is not that López Obrador is taking sides, but for him, the important thing was to take care of his relationship with Donald Trump, and, in that sense, the Democrats were completely ignored. It was very noticeable that Joe Biden wanted to attract attention, but the reality is that he is a terrible candidate,” explained Barba.
The rapport will be momentary because of the need, not permanent
“Neither will Trump stop being Trump nor will AMLO stop being AMLO,” Guillermo Barba said. And he is right. The meeting was a well-executed diplomatic-political act where the main beneficiaries are the two leaders, but that does not mean that either one will change his style of governance.
What is certain – and most likely – is that López Obrador will continue to be the same leftist populist who is leading Mexico into a giant economic crisis; and that, moreover, he will continue to receive his ideological colleagues with open arms. We must remember that the Puebla Group—the Sao Paulo Forum 2.0—is in a Mexican city and that López Obrador is a great ally of Maduro’s tyranny and of the Peronism that governs Argentina today.
On the other hand, Donald Trump is even less likely to change his foreign policy since it has been one of the strongholds of his administration. The meeting was circumstantial and will remain for the record. It is also very unlikely that he will change his immigration policy, much less his rhetoric, which has been much more aggressive than his actions. At the end of the day, Trump deported fewer people than Obama did, but there is little talk about that. What will be talked about is the skillful defensive play that left the Democrats and their media conglomerate in the dark.