Donald Trump has been hitting Mexico below the belt since the opening bell of his presidential campaign 20 months ago. He hasn’t stopped punching since.
From his plans to deport millions of immigrants and build a giant border wall, to his efforts to suck jobs out of Mexico, renegotiate NAFTA, and impose a border tax, Trump’s “success” as president will depend—in good measure—on his ability to put Mexico against the ropes.
But here’s the thing: Mexico might just be doing the rope-a-dope. And when the Aztec Kid comes out swinging in the later rounds, old Donny T could be in serious trouble.
Here are five ways Mexico could stop Trump’s plans and spoil his reelection bid:
1. Good luck paying for your wall, gringo!
The central promise of Trump’s campaign could become—quite literally—the biggest concrete failure of his presidency. Plans for the great border wall, which carries an estimated price tag between $15 billion and $21 billion, has fiscal conservatives and other sane-minded people scratching their heads. Not only is it mean-spirited, anachronistic, and improbable, it’s also a pretty expensive pet project to start without first having a serious payment plan in place.
Trump says Mexico is going to pick up the tab, and the 38% of Americans who believe everything Trump utters believes that’ll happen. The rest of the world is more skeptical. Mexico, for its part, insists they won’t pay a single peso.
Trump has recently suggested that Mexico will “reimburse” the U.S. for construction costs, either through taxing remittances or by saddling Mexican products with a 20% import tax. But if the U.S. president hopes to keep his wall “ahead of schedule,” as he unconvincingly claimed last week, he’ll have to come up with a real plan to pay for it before breaking ground.
Mexico, meanwhile, should continue to remind people every day that they are not paying for Trump’s pinche wall. Repetition works. The more Mexico repeats it, the more pressure it puts on Trump to move beyond demagoguery and show his math.
2. Mexico is for Mexican deportees only
Trump & Co. last week announced plans to deport all undocumented immigrants caught at the southern border to Mexico, regardless of their country of origin.
Mexico can kill that plan pretty easily. It takes two countries to legally deport somebody, and Mexico has already said it has no plans to accept deportees who aren’t Mexican.
That’s a problem for Trump, considering the U.S. apprehends far more undocumented immigrants from Central America than Mexico.
Trump thinks he can hasten deportations and save the country millions on repatriation costs by simply dumping all those people on Mexico. But he’s wrong.
Without Mexico’s help, Trump is going to have a hard time deporting people any faster than Obama did.
3. Open the spigot on the southern border
Mexico has been playing a prevent defense for Uncle Sam for years by knotting up its southern border to northbound Central Americans emigrating to the U.S. If Trump thinks immigrants are “pouring in” now, he’d really flip out of Mexico suddenly stopped its zone defense on the Guatemalan border and let everyone through.
Mexico is in a position like no other country to increase the flow of immigrants on the Texas border. And it wouldn’t take any effort; Mexico could overwhelm the U.S. by simply stepping aside and pointing people north to Texas.
That’s important leverage that Mexico can use to show Trump just how much more effective it is to work in partnership, rather than shunning thy neighbor and building a wall.
4. Drug war two-step
The same logic goes for the drug war. Trump has criticized Mexico’s effectiveness in stopping “bad hombres,” and even “joked” about sending U.S. troops to fight cartels in Mexico.
Mexico, however, could have the last laugh by easing off the throttle and letting the U.S. shoulder more of the burden on its own.
The U.S.-led war on drugs has led to horrible violence in Mexico. It’s cost a lot of lives and lot of money. But what if Mexico tried a different approach by legalizing drugs?
Mexico’s Supreme Court recently took a step in that direction by ruling in favor of a small cannabis club that framed the recreational use of marijuana as a human right. If Mexico were to go further on legalization, it would leave the U.S. to deal with its demand-side problems. What would the bad hombres think about that?
Mexico could also complicate drug-war cooperation by throwing a wrench into intelligence-sharing efforts that are vital to U.S. security. Some pundits are calling for the expulsion of all U.S. DEA agents, while several lawmakers have warned that Mexico could revise all bilateral security agreements if Trump continues to be such a nuisance.
The U.S. has pledged millions of dollars in drug-war aid to Mexico through the Merida Initiative, but the funding has been so slow to arrive that Mexico doesn’t necessarily depend on it. The are no huge financial incentives to continue under the current arrangement.
In short, Mexico is a key strategic ally that helps keep the U.S. safe. And right now, the U.S. needs all the friends it can get in this world.
5. The corn war
If the White House fires the first shots in a trade war, Mexico can counterstrike intelligently by targeting specific products, industries and states where it would hurt Trump the most.
Mexico’s minister of the economy has warned that his country will respond immediately to any tariffs imposed by the Trump administration. And Mexico has already showed it can hit back effectively.
In 2009 Mexican officials slapped $2.4 billion in tariffs on approximately 90 U.S. products after the U.S. limited use of its highways to Mexican trucks loaded with merchandise. Mexico then successfully sued the U.S. for violating the terms of NAFTA, forcing the U.S. to back off.
Now a group of Mexican senators has threatened to stop buying yellow corn from American producers in exchange for corn from Brazil, Argentina, Canada and other countries. The corn boycott is specifically designed to target producers in “corn belt” states that backed Trump: Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota and Nebraska.
If the Mexican corn law is passed, it would be an aimed punch that could knock the wind out of Trump’s support base.
En fin, the U.S. anti-Trump movement has been desperately searching for heroes, whether it be among grassroots organizers, celebrities, Democratic leadership, Republican rogues, the Supreme Court, or even spies like us in the deep state.
Maybe they should look south of the border instead.
Mexico has a lot of leverage and lot of tools at its disposal to push back on Trump. So cuidado, gringo, the scapegoat might bare its teeth and bite back.