What may be the most extraordinary public-relations campaign of this year’s extraordinary presidential election made a stop Friday in an unexpected place: Miami’s luxe Mandarin Oriental hotel.
Past the $21 car valet, through the incense-scented lobby, at the head of a well-appointed conference-room table, sat the tourism minister of Mexico.
His mission: to counter the rhetoric of Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Or, as Minister Enrique de la Madrid put it: “To set the record straight.”
The record between the U.S. and Mexico, as de la Madrid sees it, is one of shared prosperity and of ties so tight that both countries — not just Mexico — would lose if politics managed to tear them apart.
“Six million jobs in the U.S. are dependent on the trade with Mexico. Twenty-eight states of the 50 states in the United States have Mexico as a No. 1 or No. 2 most relevant trading partner,” he said. “Mexico is a very important market for many investments of U.S. firms — firms like Walmart, firms like Citigroup, firms like American Airlines, that are doing very good business because they are selling goods and services into Mexico.”
If the U.S. were to halt trade or raise tariffs, de la Madrid warned, its leaders should “ask Americans if they want to pay higher prices for their cars, higher prices for their clothes, higher prices for their food.”
“That’s the reality, and the whole story must be told,” he said. “That’s what we feel is our obligation — because, of course, it affects us, but it would also affect you.”
He was more than comfortable rattling off the numbers. But what de la Madrid didn’t want to do was tackle Trump’s positions. He maintained he didn’t want to talk about Trump at all — though publicists who scheduled his local media interviews specifically pitched an anti-Trump message.
“We’re not against anyone. We’re just against bad ideas,” de la Madrid insisted. “I’m not here to discuss Mr. Trump.”
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, he added, is also “not very much in favor of trade.”
Yet there was no getting away from the fact that Trump — who called some Mexican immigrants “rapists,” who proposes building a “big, beautiful” border wall that Mexico would pay for, who prompted former Mexican President Vicente Fox to call Trump “crazy” and later apologize — has led the alarmed government of a neighboring foreign country to take unusual action.
“It is becoming more usual,” de la Madrid said — adding that the government of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto learned, “because of the American campaign, that probably the image of Mexico was not at its best.”
Trump’s hard-line promises of building the wall and creating a “deportation force” to round up people who are in the U.S. illegally helped him win the GOP primary. Faced with a far more diverse group of general-election voters, Trump has spent the past few days waffling on his position, saying he was open to “softening” it.
He told Fox News on Tuesday he might give some undocumented immigrants legal status if they paid “back taxes” — the sort of stance shared by ex-rivals Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. By Friday, Trump told CNN there would be no legalization.
De la Madrid delved into none of that, touching only on the wall.
“The one who wants to build it should pay for it,” he said. “Americans should be more worried about building better schools. They should be more worried about building better infrastructure. They should be more worried about building better housing. The last thing they need to be worried about is building new walls.”
Over the past few months, de la Madrid — the son of former Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid — said he’s visited New York, San Diego and Phoenix, and Cleveland and Philadelphia, the cities that hosted the presidential conventions. In Miami, he planned to meet city Mayor Tomás Regalado and the Doral City Council.
He had already spoken to Bush’s son, Jeb Bush Jr. On Thursday, the elder Bush told a New York radio station that Trump’s immigration-policy shift was “abhorrent.”
De la Madrid said he feels “challenged” by the U.S. campaign — and is happy to react by offering “information.”
Could his PR campaign put the relationship with a future President Trump at risk?
Said de la Madrid: “I hope not.”