Mexico Managed to Build a Working Relationship With Trump—and Would Rather Keep It | Analysis

Mexico has been an integral part of Trump's "Make America Great Again" vision, serving as the bogeyman for his base and the punching bag for the president's nativist and protectionist agenda.

The best-known policy bid to build a border wall along the entire southern border—and to have Mexico pay for it—has failed. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is even facing fraud charges over a private fundraising campaign to support the divisive project.

But Mexico is also party to Trump's re-negotiated version of NAFTA—the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement—which the White House claimed as a victory for American workers and a reversal of long-term globalization trends that saw corporations shift manufacturing outside America in search of cheaper labor.

Center-left anti-establishment President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has managed to avoid the kind of conflict with Trump that some observers predicted after his landslide electoral victory in 2018. His government has taken steps to ease the immigration pressure on the U.S. southern border and went along with USMCA talks. Trump has given Obrador a largely free hand at home, provided his southern counterpart helps at the border.

As to whom Obrador—colloquially known as AMLO—wants to win in the U.S., Duncan Wilson, the director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center think tank, told Newsweek: "This is a fascinating question with a complicated answer."

"AMLO himself would prefer a second Trump term because he believes that, by satisfying Trump's demands on immigration, he secures non-intervention by Trump on all other issues regarding investor relations and especially the energy sector," Wood said. "This may well be an erroneous assumption in a second Trump term."

"However, when we examine Mexican public opinion, a different answer is found. Sixty percent of the Mexican public has a negative opinion of Trump, a number that has dropped from 69 percent in 2017, but which reflects the damage that was done to bilateral relations in the campaign of 2016 and in its immediate aftermath."

"The key priority of the AMLO administration is avoid conflict with the U.S. government and to avoid U.S. pressure to change course on issues such as the economy, energy regulation and regulation of the pharmaceutical industry," Wood said.

If Biden wins, Obrador's administration will have to quickly pivot to working with the Democrats. A Biden win may bring U.S. opposition to Obrador's efforts to sideline private firms from the country's energy and pharmaceutical sectors. A Democratic administration would also likely mean less tension and fewer human rights abuses at the border.

"We need to work in partnership with Mexico," Biden said after Obrador visited Washington in July. "We need to restore dignity and humanity to our immigration system."

Mexico may be able to scale down its national guard deployment along the frontier—put in place to soothe Trump's frustration at the number of immigrants making it into the U.S. But this would likely come with more scrutiny of the human rights abuses and corruption on the Mexican side of the border from Democrats more concerned with such issues than the Trump administration.

"There will be an urgent need for bridge-building with the Biden camp as there has been almost no contact until now and there was an awkward omission in AMLO's visit to D.C. in July, when he didn't meet with any Democrats," Wood said.