(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump lauded his relationship with Mexican leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and boasted that the two countries’ bond is “better than ever” in a last-minute effort to win over Hispanic voters before next week’s election.
Trump, who won office in 2016 on a promise to block immigration from Mexico and is currently trailing in the polls behind Democratic opponent Joe Biden, wrote that his re-election would benefit Mexicans. Mexico profits “when the economy of the United States is strong and when the United States is respected in the world,” he said in a written interview published Friday in Mexican newspaper El Universal.
The strategy of courting Latino voters demonstrated in the interview marks a shift from Trump’s game plans of the past. Rather than deriding illegal immigrants in order to stir up a ballot boost, with just days to go, Trump is now trying to snag the same voters he had turned off before by using real estate in the Mexican newspaper to try to trim Biden’s advantage with Hispanic voters.
AMLO + Trump
The billionaire struck up a surprisingly close relationship with leftist AMLO, a veteran campaigner who earned his political stripes promoting indigenous rights in his rural home state of Tabasco. In the interview, Trump talked up his work on the border with Lopez Obrador and called their relationship “incredible.”
AMLO, who wrote a tough-talking book called “Listen, Trump” before winning election in 2018, has since acquiesced to the leader’s demands to slow immigration, deploying his national guard to stop Central Americans crossing Mexico’s southern border. In return, Mexico has avoided the kinds of tariffs Trump slapped on other U.S. trade competitors. AMLO met with the Republican at the White House in July; that meeting was highlighted in a Trump campaign ad in August.
Read more: Mexico’s AMLO Flies Coach to Washington to Seal Trump Bet
In the interview Trump pointed to the new North American trade agreement framing that July meeting -- the USMCA -- as a win. “We replaced NAFTA, one of the worst trade deals of all time, with the USMCA, which is the best trade deal in history,” he wrote.
In 2015, during his previous campaign, Trump called Mexican immigrants “rapists.” In office he stepped up immigration raids, threatened to defund sanctuary cities, and enforced family separations at the border.
But in the 2020 presidential campaign, he has softened his rhetoric. And in the Universal interview, he justified his hard-line immigration stance by saying that anything less restrictive is “not fair on the undocumented migrants themselves, who face horrible dangers in their journey to the United States.”
“No president has done more to end human trafficking and smuggling,” he wrote.
Read more: Unusual Pair Trump, Lopez Obrador Reboot U.S.-Mexico Bond
The two countries’ joint work on managing the border proved crucial in fighting the coronavirus, he added. “If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s the importance of a nation being able to control its own borders,” he wrote. “We have been able to keep our 3,200-kilometer border open to business and other essential activities the whole time.”
The priorities for the U.S.-Mexico relationship are migration, human trafficking, security and trade, Trump said in the interview. Both countries returned to growth in the third quarter of 2020, with strong U.S. demand driving Mexico’s manufacturing sector.
Read more: Mexican President Steps Up Criticism on Private Energy Companies
The Universal feature is part of a broader, eleventh-hour effort by the Trump camp to grab votes before November 3.
Trump is polling nine points behind Biden, according to FiveThirtyEight’s average of national surveys, but trails much further among the Hispanic population that comprises 13.5% of the electorate. The Latino Decisions poll, which specializes in polling Hispanic voters and conducts its interviews in English and Spanish, shows the Democrat leading 68% to 25% among Hispanic likely voters nationally.
Read more: ‘This Is a Moment’: U.S. Latino Vote Matters Like Never Before
Both candidates are spending heavily in states with large Hispanic populations -- Arizona, Nevada, Texas and Florida -- this cycle. They’ve put up $16 million on Spanish-language television spots between them. But Biden has outspent the president two-to-one on those ads, and has also targeted smaller pocket communities in places like Charlotte, North Carolina and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
“We know our pathway to victory includes winning key battleground states that have significant populations” of Latino voters, and “we cannot win without the Latino vote in these states,” Biden’s deputy campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said on a call with reporters.
On Wednesday, Trump made an appeal to Latino voters at a Phoenix rally, promising to enact policies he called “The American Dream Plan” that he said would create 2 million jobs for them and 500,000 Latino-owned businesses. In the Universal interview he claimed that Biden would enact similar left-wing policies to those that brought Venezuela and Cuba “to ruin.”
It’s unclear when he responded to the newspaper, which noted that the interview “was formulated” before U.S. authorities arrested former Mexican Defense Secretary Salvador Cienfuegos on drug trafficking charges in mid-October.
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