There were also some glaring absences, such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who refrained from formally commenting on a contest he has long been suspected of trying to sway. But no silence was more deafening than Mexico’s. In a curt statement, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador explained his intention to “wait until all legal issues” are settled. “President Trump has been very respectful with us,” he said. “We don’t want to be imprudent.”
López Obrador’s reluctance to recognize Biden’s victory, tacitly validating Trump’s mission to delegitimize the electoral process, shouldn’t surprise anyone. It is the next logical step in López Obrador’s subservient relationship with Trump. Despite having long denounced Trump’s nativist rhetoric — he even wrote a book against Trump during Mexico’s 2018 campaign — López Obrador has chosen to appease the United States’ mercurial president at every turn, often to the detriment of his own campaign promises on issues such as immigration. To avoid confrontation or reprisals such as the imposition of tariffs, López Obrador has given in to Trump’s most outlandish demands, such as Mexico’s unprecedented militarization of its southern border or the country’s assistance with the Trump administration’s inhumane and controversial “Remain in Mexico” policy.
In the past few months, as Trump’s electoral troubles mounted, López Obrador went out of his way, quite literally, to help. In July, he overcame his famous aversion to international travel to visit the White House, where he gave a speech in which he compared Trump to Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt and thanked him for being “increasingly respectful” to Mexicans in the United States. After such indignity, granting credence to Trump’s legal challenges of the electoral process in the United States should be an expected, if sad, progression.
But there’s something else at play. Something more personal.
On Monday, during his daily news conference, López Obrador explained that previous governments had been “irresponsible” in the past when dealing with foreign elections. “They were often servile meddlers,” he said. “What happens if we don’t respect the decision of other people and we intrude in their affairs? They will end up doing the same.” López Obrador was probably referring to his own defeat in a closely contested election. In 2006, after a furious campaign, conservative candidate Felipe Calderón beat López Obrador by a quarter of a million votes. As congratulatory calls poured in for Calderón, López Obrador refused to accept defeat. He cried fraud and set out to delegitimize the election. He demanded a recount. When the process failed to vindicate his allegations of electoral wrongdoing, López Obrador proclaimed himself the “legitimate president” of Mexico and declined to recognize Calderón as the country’s lawful leader, dismissing him as “spurious.” To this day, millions of López Obrador’s supporters dogmatically believe their candidate was robbed. López Obrador would go through the same charade again in 2012, when he again refused to accept defeat against Enrique Peña Nieto.
López Obrador reconciled himself with Mexico’s democratic institutions only when the same system he had decried as rigged for more than a decade declared him victorious in 2018. This dynamic is now becoming eerily familiar to U.S. voters. Like López Obrador, Trump believes in democracy only when it benefits him. Any adverse result is suspect, potentially fraudulent, illegitimate.
Given their shared narcissistic and conspiratorial mind-set, why would López Obrador turn his back on Trump now? Why acknowledge Biden’s victory if, perhaps, he has already opted to believe Trump’s allegations of fraud?
“They stole the election from us,” López Obrador said on Saturday, comparing his 2006 defeat to Trump’s current conundrum. “The votes hadn’t been counted and some foreign governments were already recognizing those who had declared themselves the winner.” By drawing a parallel between Trump’s claims of electoral malfeasance and his own, López Obrador has already chosen a side. Biden will surely notice.
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