The Slatest

Mexico’s President Thought He Could Reason With Trump. He Thought Wrong.

People burn effigies of  Donald Trump and Enrique Peña Nieto in front of the National Palace in Mexico City on Jan. 9.

Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has finally canceled his visit to Washington to meet with President Trump. The Mexican government had said Wednesday that the meeting, planned for Tuesday, was still on, even after Trump signed executive orders to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, crack down on illegal immigration, and renegotiate NAFTA. But Thursday morning, Trump tweeted that if Mexico wouldn’t pay for the wall, it would be better not to have the meeting at all:

Peña Nieto’s administration has seemed perpetually flummoxed by Trump.

He controversially invited Trump to a meeting in Mexico in August, which accomplished the impressive task of making the candidate look fairly statesmanlike while doing nothing to moderate his rhetoric on trade and immigration. In fact, Trump more or less humiliated the Mexicans by giving an immigrant-bashing speech in Phoenix immediately upon his return.

Similarly, Trump signed Wednesday’s executive order on the construction of the wall while Mexico’s foreign minister was in Washington to set up Peña Nieto’s visit. It was another slap in the face. Thursday morning’s tweet, after Peña Nieto had suggested he still wanted to talk and was willing to ignore domestic pressure for him to call off the meeting, was yet another.

Already dismally unpopular, Peña Nieto has been taking heavy criticism in the Mexican press for his handling of Trump. It can’t help that his predecessor, Vicente Fox, of the rival PAN party, is out there openly taunting Trump on Twitter about Mexico’s refusal to pay for the #fuckingwall.*

Peña Nieto’s term is up next year, but his political capital is likely already toast. With 2018 elections looming, the most likely beneficiary is Mexico City’s leftist former mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who is calling for Mexico to sue the United States at the United Nations over the wall on the grounds that it constitutes a human rights violation and racial discrimination.

But Trump’s moves this week constitute a major shift in relations between the two neighbors, and it’s impossible to predict just how it will play out. As I wrote last month, there’s been a bipartisan consensus in Mexico for decades that the country should bet on economic liberalization and a close political and economic relationship with the United States. That commitment has now been thrown back in their faces in the most humiliating way possible.

*Correction, Jan. 27, 2017: This post originally misspelled Vicente Fox’s first name.