The Mexico Factor

As you all likely know, Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign by denigrating México, Mexicans and immigrants. Trump called NAFTA the “worst deal” ever. Donald Trump consistently threatened to scrap NAFTA. Throughout the political rhetoric, renegotiating NAFTA has been happening, often in the background and sometimes out in the open. But things have changed in the last month.

Quietly, a change on the tone about NAFTA and México has evolved in Trump’s political rhetoric over the last couple of weeks. It has been subtle, so most have missed it. Yes, the wall will be built remains Trump’s go to cry to motivate his base. But a change in Trump’s tone has also emerged.

It started a few months ago with the argument that the undocumented immigrant problem, that requires the wall, is about Central Americans “abusing” the asylum system. It was a shift, or clarification away from Mexican undocumented immigrants towards those from Central American countries, using México as a spring board. If the shift came about because of the inconvenient truth that Mexican immigration has been declining for years, or because México has become the savior for the GOP in November is open to debate.

The most noticeable tone change by Donald Trump came about last Tuesday during his rally in West Virginia. It so subtle that most missed it, and if the comment stood on its own it would not signal a change in tone from Trump on México. At the rally, shortly after it was known that Mollie Tibbetts’ killer is from México, Donald Trump said;

“You heard today, with the illegal alien coming in from, very sadly, from Mexico”.

The two words, “very sadly” before México signals a tonal change by Trump on México.

Previously, Donald Trump, would not have used the words, “very sadly” when talking about México.

Although, Donald Trump followed his comments with the need to build the wall because of undocumented immigrant criminals, the “very sadly” becomes even more noticeable the following days.

Last week, the White House kept insinuating that an announcement on NAFTA would be out by Thursday. The NAFTA negotiations have been ongoing only between México and the United States excluding Canada. Although the Thursday announcement never came about, the Mexican and U.S. governments have taken to making sure the public knows that an agreement on NAFTA will shortly be announced.

On Saturday, Donald Trump tweeted:

“Our relationship with Mexico is getting closer by the hour.”

Some may be tempted to equate the tonal change on the election of AMLO, but Trump quickly dispels that through his tweet; “some really good people within both the new and old government”.

Noting the tonal change by Donald Trump on México, the obvious question is; why?

As easy as it is to argue that the incoming AMLO government is the reason or the ongoing close cooperation with México that the U.S. enjoys, the reason is likely more pragmatic than that.

It has everything to do with the upcoming mid-term elections.

Very simply, Donald Trump needs a win before November  to prove his “negotiating skills” work. Trump needs to show progress on his abrasive global trade politics to pacify the fears among his base brought on by Trump’s trade wars with China, Canada and México.

The mid-terms are driven by the economy.

Although the stock market remains strong, the fear of job losses and an economic downturn in manufacturing because of the lack of raw materials – such as steel, farmers worried about soy & pork, and labor strife on the farms has Trump’s base questioning whether Trump’s path will make America economically strong again.

To tamp down the rising fears, the Trump Administration needs to showcase a victory on global trade.

How the renegotiated NAFTA deal is announced and/or adopted, and spun, does not mater. The new NAFTA deal would allow Trump to claim “victory” on trade, and his abrasive negotiating tactics.

NAFTA is the easy “win” for Donald Trump as immigration and the wall remain a stagnant issue; and North Korea is not cooperating in denuclearization, leaving the “win” on NAFTA the only viable issue for Trump’s voters.

Donald Trump shrewdly knows that changing his tone on México and Mexicans is the only thing he has left to use before November.

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