President Trump’s ridiculous campaign rhetoric is still souring US-Mexican relations, as evidenced by the news that Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has abandoned plans for an upcoming visit to the United States. The reason? Trump refused to back off his insistence that Mexico must pay for the wall the president has promised to erect on the southern border.
During his presidential campaign, Trump regularly railed against undocumented immigrants from Mexico and pledged to build a wall between the two countries, insisting he would somehow force Mexico to pick up the tab.
That even became an audience-engagement part of his stump speech. After Trump would promise to build the wall, he’d ask rally attendees: “And who’s gonna pay for the wall?” And back would come this response from a crowd as delighted as it was deluded: “Mexico!” Mexico has insisted all along that it won’t fund such a wall, and there is no realistic way for Trump to force them to do so. In a tacit recognition of that reality, Trump has since asked Congress for wall funding, though he has insisted Mexico will reimburse the cost, which could run in the $20 billion to $25 billion range.
That matter has come up between the two presidents several times since Trump has been in office. Early in his term, The Washington Post published a transcript of a call between Trump and Peña Nieto in which Trump said the two would have to finesse the issue. The American president obviously didn’t the Mexican leader to embarrass him by stating the obvious: His wall-payment promise would not come to pass. (There are any number of other difficulties that Trump’s border barrier scheme has glossed over as well, such as what effects walling southwestern Texas off from the Rio Grande would have on the region’s livestock and wildlife.) “If you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore because I cannot live with that,” Trump said back then.
The wall reared its hypothetical 30-foot head again this month in discussions about a White House visit by the Mexican president. A Mexican diplomatic delegation first met with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner (who includes US-Mexican relations in his seemingly endless policy portfolio) and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, as well as others. The Mexicans left that meeting feeling they had an assurance that the border wall and Trump’s desire to have Mexico foot the bill for it wouldn’t come up during Peña Nieto’s visit. Mexicans understandably consider it embarrassing to their president to have Trump talk about their country paying for the wall despite the Mexican leader’s insistence that that won’t happen.
But when the two presidents talked by phone last week, Trump would not commit to acknowledging that Mexico would not be paying for the wall. Or even to staying silent on the subject. Rather than admitting that his campaign-trail promise was ridiculous, Trump apparently thinks it’s unrealistic for his Mexican counterpart to expect him to back way from that subject.
As a result, the trip has been canceled. And a chance to rebuild a soured US-Mexico relationship has gone by the boards. And all because Trump doesn’t want to concede the absurdity of his ill-considered campaign pledge. A less egotistical, more forthright president would acknowledge that there will be no free wall. Trump won’t — but no one else should be mistaken about that. Or about the effect that his pander-to-the-(gullible)-nativists pitch has had on US-Mexican relations.