AMLO is not Mexico's Trump or Mexico's Bernie

AMLO is not Mexico's Trump or Mexico's Bernie
© Getty Images

First, why did Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (known as AMLO) win? Some say it was his mass appeal to the “working class,” like President TrumpDonald John TrumpHannity urges Trump not to fire 'anybody' after Rosenstein report Ben Carson appears to tie allegation against Kavanaugh to socialist plot Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate MORE. Others say it was his socialist policies, like those of Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate Ben & Jerry’s co-founders announce effort to help 7 Dem House challengers Dems look to Gillum, Abrams for pathway to victory in tough states MORE (I-Vt.). Others still say that his win was an “anti-Trump” vote in Mexico. The truth is none of the above — in speaking with Mexicans, it’s clear that Trump was the furthest thing from their minds when casting a vote. It’s, as it always is, the life and death, bread and butter issues they face — Mexicans’ top concerns focused on violence, corruption, jobs/the economy, education, and access to health care.

Yes, AMLO can aptly be described as a populist, but his ideas could not be further from Trump’s. Admittedly, there are some very troubling similarities between the two, but the way that they rose to power is completely different, and for the time being we’ll focus on how this latest version of AMLO has most recently struck a decidedly different tone and proposition from Trump’s, albeit he will face similar circumspection and challenges.


Starting with the differences: first, we should note that it was always disingenuous for Lopez Obrador to call himself an outsider, unlike Trump he was raised in the most entrenched of Mexican political establishments, We shouldn’t forget too quickly how he led protests for months after the 2012 election, going as far as announcing a parallel government to go against the (for better or worse) democratically elected government of Enrique Peña Nieto. However, during this last campaign he significantly scaled back that bravado and the anti-democratic, populist, anger-stoking speeches — something Trump will never do.


Most likely, it is Lopez Obrador’s political acumen and experience that led to his decision to modify his message from one of strident, leftist, policies when he ran six and 12 years ago, to a more pragmatic, sensible message of social and economic equality and anti-corruption. Unlike Trump, he has been and forever will be part of “the system.” It is widely reported that he, the PRI he was fighting to oust, and other parties might have even reached consensus agreements on the political future of Mexico.

Moreover, unlike Trump, Lopez Obrador actually has significant experience governing at the state and local level. Unfortunately, those experiences were themselves at times tainted in scandal and corruption, so it remains to be seen how effective AMLO will be in “draining the swamp.”

This too is an example of the trepidation facing an AMLO administration- given the complicated history of all political parties in Mexico when it comes to corruption, it remains to be seen whether Mexicans will simply see a change in characters exhibiting the same behavior, or whether those in positions of power will finally begin to be accountable to those demanding change.

One thing is true — corruption is rarely ousted from the top down, it is a cultural shift that must occur from the bottom up.

In terms of his brand, AMLO’s brand of populism (at the moment) rests on openness, inclusivity, and equity, not on closed borders, hate, and fear. A far cry from Trump’s “American carnage” inauguration speech, AMLO’s acceptance speech proposed that “the state will represent all Mexicans- rich and poor, immigrants, believers and non-believers, from all schools of thought and sexual preferences.”

Importantly, the Trump comparison is unfair because Trump actually lost the popular vote, while AMLO takes the presidency with the broadest mandate in modern Mexican (democratic) history, having received over 53 percent of the vote and a majority of seats in Congress. What he will do with it remains to be seen, but for the time being, he has a mandate and Mexico is rooting for him to succeed.

Which takes us to another key difference from Trump- while both have anti-corruption messages, in spite of his past, AMLO is still in a position to carry his out. Trump ran on a platform to “drain the swamp” against “the special interests”, and yet he and members of his administration now find themselves the subject of dozens of investigations.

Hopefully, AMLO and his administration will deliver on their promises and avoid the same fate. While, like Trump, AMLO’s election was largely a “last ditch” effort to change political culture in Mexico, unlike Trump, he was raised in the “system,” and it remains to be seen if he can deliver, with many fears and trepidations still permeating throughout the electorate as to his ability to deliver on lofty promises.

The “national project” AMLO described in his acceptance speech is no longer one of “getting mine” or “getting them their due”, but rather his version of “country first” is one where the “general well-being is put ahead of that of any one group or individual.”

While AMLO’s agenda is mainly one of social justice and economic equality, unlike Bernie Sanders, his statements have remained pro-trade and in favor of a positive working relationship with the Mexican private sector.

While AMLO does support similar policies in favor of social services, affordable education and greater financial support for senior citizens, AMLO is not Sanders. AMLO is not “anti-globalization” and he did not rally against “the corporations” (this time around) — his position has shifted to one of cautious support of NAFTA, and constructively and humanely addressing the immigration crisis on both of Mexico’s borders.

Moreover, in his acceptance speech he conceded that managing Mexico’s budget and inflation is a priority for his administration.

It’s important to note, unlike both Trump and Sanders, AMLO did not take over an existing political party and leverage existing political structures to achieve this historic win, he created a new infrastructure- something both Trump and Sanders were unable or unwilling to do. In fairness, his new structure is populated with former leaders of the traditional institutions, but he forged his own path.

One way in which he is similar to Trump and Sanders during the 2016 campaign — none of the three presented defined proposals as to how they would achieve their policy goals. Their ideas are for the most part sound-bytes, or grand ideas with no clear roadmap to completion. So the question remains, beyond the ideals, can he execute and govern with transparency and effectiveness?

Zuraya Tapia-Hadley is a principal at The Raben Group, attorney licensed in Mexico, and specializes in U.S.-Mexico relations. She is a former congressional staff member, previously executive director of the Hispanic National Bar Association and director at the U.S.-Mexico Foundation.