Donald Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto spoke to each other on the phone recently, and reports say that it didn't go very well. Trump's phone call with the Mexican president ended in anger, with Peña Nieto canceling a planned March trip to Washington.
Their impasse came from a familiar topic: the southern border wall with Mexico, which Trump repeatedly promised during his campaign that he would build and Mexico would pay for. This same exact argument over the phone, with the same exact result, has taken place before, in January 2017, with Peña Nieto canceling a trip to meet with Trump because of Trump's insistence that Mexico pay for Trump's very popular campaign promise.
Although relations between Mexico and the U.S. had gotten better in the year between these two phone calls, Trump has apparently not dropped the idea of Mexico paying for the wall — and Peña Nieto, unsurprisingly, has not dropped his objection to it.
The Washington Post, which initially broke the story, reported that while White House officials said that Trump was "frustrated and exasperated" on the phone call, the Mexican officials that they spoke to said that Trump "lost his temper." Trump, White House officials say, apparently believes that Peña Nieto's resistance to allowing Trump to make good on his campaign promise is "unreasonable."
Peña Nieto, on the other hand, reportedly wants to stay away from the public embarrassment that would come from capitulating on this particular issue. After it became clear that Trump would not agree to publicly announcing that Mexico would not pay for the proposed wall, the Mexican president ended the call. The two had reportedly spent about 50 minutes discussing this single issue, but the way that the call ended suggests that they were not able to make any significant headway on it and that both sides are still standing their ground.
Mexico view's Trump's continued insistence that he will have a wall built and Mexico will pay for it as an insult, and Peña Nieto would be in for some serious political struggles if he showed any sign of backing down on his position. As the Washington Post describes, Peña Nieto and his American counterpart are polar opposites of each other in both appearance and style. Peña Nieto is a physically smaller man, and Trump has been known to use his bigger stature as a physical bullying technique even in political situations, like during one of his debates with Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign.
Trump also prefers to essentially wing it when he's giving speeches or otherwise appearing in public, whereas Peña Nieto would rather appear in formal, scripted situations. While the two have met to discuss matters in person before, the White House official who confirmed the veracity of this story said that given the state of discussions about the wall, they did not believe that this was the appropriate time for them to meet again.
While Trump administration officials insist that the two countries' relations are closer than ever, it's undeniable that the two don't have a great personal relationship. "Even from the get-go, the idea of Mexico paying for the wall was never going to fly. [Trump's] relationship with Mexico isn't strategically driven," former ambassador of Mexico to the United States told the Post. "It's not even business; it's personal, driven by motivations and triggers, and that's a huge problem. It could end up with the U.S. asking itself, who lost Mexico?"
And according to transcripts from Trump's phone call with Peña Nieto from January of 2017, he did indeed start their relationship out on a personal note, saying that the Mexican president was putting him "in a little bit of a political bind" by insisting, contrary to Trump's campaign promise, that Mexico would not pay for the wall. Peña Nieto, on the other hand, has no such bind to deal with. As long as he maintains his position, he doesn't have anything to answer for. This latest phone call proves that on this issue, nothing has changed in the first year of Trump's administration.