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The 2020 United States presidential campaign is already in full swing in Latin America. Four hot-button issues that helped propel President Trump to the White House in 2016 are already coming into play in his approach with the region, and they are being driven by two parallel electoral strategies: appeals to his political base nationwide on immigration, drugs and trade, and a hard sell directed at South Florida on Cuba and Venezuela.
Since he announced his candidacy in 2015, Mr. Trump has treated Mexico as a proxy and scapegoat, particularly on immigration and trade, two issues on which he promised a radical policy shift. Calls to build “the wall” on the United States-Mexico border became shorthand for a tough, aggressive stance on these issues that reliably rallies and excites Mr. Trump’s hard-core supporters.
But closing down the border, as the president threatened to do recently, would hurt both countries and cause irreparable damage to what is arguably the United States’ most crucial relationship. On Thursday, under pressure from Republicans in Congress, he backed off that threat, only to issue another one: “We’re going to give them a one-year warning, and if the drugs don’t stop or largely stop, we’re going to put tariffs on Mexico and products, particularly cars.”