President Donald Trump overruled his advisers last week to announce tariffs on Mexico for not stopping migrants at the border. Facing the continuing fallout from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and the prospect of 2020 elections, Trump seems to be betting again that hyping the border and demonizing trade and Mexico will rally his political base.
His latest tariff gambit abuses the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, undermines free trade agreements and taxes American consumers. But that isn’t why his threats won’t work. It is because President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico can’t staunch the flow of people from his neighbors to the south.
Mexico’s reaction to Trump’s threats so far has been muted. Lopez Obrador sent a conciliatory letter in response. While declaring that he “wasn’t a coward,” he’s been in I’m-a-lover-not-a-fighter mode, couching his criticisms in history lessons harkening back to Abraham Lincoln. His foreign minister, after hurrying to Washington, has since been tweeting platitudes about dignity and respect in the lead-up to Wednesday sessions with U.S. officials.