The immigration-related deal announced yesterday whereby Mexico averted the imposition of new tariffs from the Trump administration may, it appears, have been more posturing than substance. The New York Times now reports that Mexico, months ago, had already agreed to key provisions of this supposed deal, including both the Mexican National Guard commitment and allowing asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while waiting for the disposition of their cases in U.S. court. That report would suggest that Trump may have just been trying to save face in announcing this deal, because he had become aware of the huge political and economic liability his proposed tariffs represented for him, as Democrats and Republicans, business leaders, and economists all indicated disapproval and warned of dire consequences. According to The Hill:
President Trump’s deal with Mexico on Friday to drop plans to impose sweeping tariffs on the country in exchange for Mexico’s promise to crack down on illegal migration is reportedly made up largely of actions that Mexican officials had already agreed to in discussions over the past several months, The New York Times reported Saturday. According to the Times, officials from both countries said Mexico’s agreement on Friday to deploy its national guard throughout Mexico, “giving priority to its southern border,” had already been promised in March during secret discussions with then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Olga Sanchez, the Mexican secretary of the interior, in Miami. Officials told the Times that the central part of Friday’s deal, which expanded the program permitting asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while their claims are processed, was also agreed upon before Friday’s announcement. …The Times reported that it was not immediately clear whether Trump believes Friday’s deal represents new concessions or whether his embrace of the agreement was an attempt to avoid possible negative political and economic ramifications from imposing steep tariffs on Mexico.
So, while Trump wanted to make it appear as if he had pulled off some fantastic deal, really the substance of the deal had nothing new to it, as it was made up things Mexico had already agreed to do. Trump does sometimes operate in his own off-kilter version of reality, so perhaps he actually believes, wrongly, that he made a big accomplishment here, but it is at least as likely that Trump, who abhors admitting he is wrong, is aware that there isn’t much new in this supposed ‘deal’, but is happy to pretend there is in order to try to make himself look better. Of course, though, that bubble of making himself look better with this deal, something the Trump campaign has even been using to raise money, is apt to burst amid these reports, using multiple sources, that there was nothing new to the substance of the agreement. If so, this certainly would not be first time that Trump has attempted to put a shine on his reputation for deal making that was not warranted by the facts. Unfortunately, Trump appears to care much more for appearances than substance.
It is worth noting here that Trump did say that the tariffs are suspended, not cancelled, so if the current agreement does not have the effects he wants on immigration, or if he wants to create some drama he thinks will benefit him with his base of voters, he may well threaten such tariffs again. Threatening allies like Mexico is of course destructive to our long term relationship with them, but that is another value that Trump seems not to hold in high esteem.