Mexican president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador has sported many nicknames throughout his rise to power: AMLO, “the American” and “Peje,” a kind of feisty, freshwater fish common in his home state of Tabasco. At the White House, however, the 64-year-old leftist reportedly has gone by a different name: “Juan Trump.”
Mark Feierstein, who was special assistant to President Barack Obama and a former senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council, wrote in Americas Quarterly last week that Trump “sees a bit of his renegade self in AMLO, privately calling the Mexican politician ‘Juan Trump.’ ” Feierstein attributed Trump’s purported remarks to “a senior government official.”
The White House and the State Department declined to comment.
According to Feierstein, Trump is purported to have used the term “Juan Trump” more than once in the months leading up to López Obrador’s election on July 1, reportedly using the nickname to ask aides how the leftist candidate was faring in the race. Trump, who congratulated López Obrador on his victory even before the official results were released, reportedly sees many parallels between himself and the anti-establishment populist. If the report about the “Juan Trump” nickname is true, it would suggest that Trump sees López Obrador as a Mexican version of himself.
Feierstein also said he was told that people close to López Obrador were aware of this nickname before the article was published in Americas Quarterly, though this was disputed by Roberto Velasco, a spokesman for Mexico’s incoming foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard.
“The only way we’ve learned about this is through the press. We don’t have any other sources of information regarding this comment … and we’ve taken it with a grain of salt,” Velasco said in a phone interview with The Washington Post. Velasco added that as of now, the Foreign Ministry has no official comment and the incoming López Obrador administration is deferring discussions on all serious bilateral issues until a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo scheduled for Friday.
Paulina Chávez Alonzo, a spokeswoman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, said she read about the reported nickname over the weekend but declined to provide further comment.
Although Feierstein’s article did not prompt much reaction in the United States, it was picked up by one of Mexico’s largest newspapers, Reforma, and quickly spread on news sites in the country. Some Mexicans have posted memes and doctored photos of Trump and López Obrador to satirize the supposed similarities, but many have also taken offense at the purported use of the word “Juan” and have pointed out differences between the two leaders.
Before his electoral victory, López Obrador repeatedly distanced himself from Trump, calling him “erratic and arrogant” and criticizing many of his policies on immigration in a book titled “Listen Up, Trump.” At a speech in Los Angeles last year, López Obrador said Trump's rhetoric around building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border “goes against humanity, it goes against intelligence and against history.”
While the Mexican populist moderated his tone at his victory speech on Sunday, calling for “friendship and mutual respect” with the Trump administration, experts say he is not one to bully. Equipped with the broadest mandate in Mexico's recent history, López Obrador could be much firmer toward the United States than his predecessors, disappointing those who see him just as a friendly mirror to Trump.