There's a lot of frantic commentary today to the effect that the president of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, is making a mistake by agreeing to meet with Donald Trump. In a year filled with bad political commentary, this strikes me as some of the worst punditry of the year.
Let's start with a few facts:
It's a shame that so many ... people who are perfectly happy to break bread with the Castros or leaders of the Chinese Communist Party -- would prefer to see Trump and his supporters treated as international pariahs.
Right now, according to Nate Silver's "polls-plus" analysis, Trump is on pace to carry states worth 228 electoral votes. Now to put that in perspective, Romney got 206 electoral votes in 2012. Romney got over 60 million votes, and it seems reasonable to assume that Trump will do the same.
Sixty million people is a lot of people. It's almost twice the population of Canada (35 million). It's almost three times the population of Australia (23 million). Why would Mexico want to risk offending so many people by refusing to meet with Trump?
Furthermore, the Trump voters represent a major chunk of the world economy. Here's a map showing how the gross domestic product (GDP) of each individual American state compares to the GDP of a country. (For example, the GDP of Pennsylvania is roughly equal to the GDP of Turkey):
Now let's just look at a few of the states that Trump will likely carry.
Texas' GDP is roughly equal to that of Canada.
Utah's is roughly equal to that of New Zealand.
Indiana's is roughly equal to that of Austria.
South Carolina's is roughly equal to that of Finland.
Oklahoma's is roughly equal to that of Portugal.
Remember that these are only five states, and Trump will likely carry a lot more.
Imagine that representatives of Canada, New Zealand, Austria, Finland, and Portugal expressed an interest in meeting with the president of Mexico, in hopes of improving economic and political ties. Wouldn't it be smart for the president to meet with those people? In fact, wouldn't it be political malpractice to refuse such a meeting -- and then to go on TV and publicly denounce their representatives as evil, as some commentators have suggested he do with Trump? Of course it would. So why would it be smart to insult someone likely to carry states that make up a similar share of the global economy?
But that's not all. Nate Silver's polls-plus analysis also gives Trump a 27.2 percent chance to be the next president of the United States. Given the importance of the U.S.-Mexico relationship, it would be foolhardy in the extreme for any president of Mexico to refuse the opportunity to build a useful working relationship with someone who has a better than one-in-four chance of being the next American president.
Of course there are people in Mexico who have strong feelings about Trump -- just as there are Americans who have strong feelings about Mexico. But if you're the president of Mexico -- and you are looking to advance the interests of Mexico -- you have to be prepared to work with Trump and his supporters. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply unrealistic.
One final point: We are always being told about the importance of negotiations and keeping doors open. We negotiate with Iraq, we negotiate with China, we negotiate with Cuba. We regularly give meetings and photo ops to some of the most odious regimes on the planet -- and when some Americans complain about this, we are always told that doing so leads to a better and safer world.
It's a shame that so many people inside the Beltway -- people who are perfectly happy to break bread with the Castros or leaders of the Chinese Communist Party -- would prefer to see Trump and his supporters treated as international pariahs. By agreeing to meet with Trump, the president of Mexico has shown his willingness to be open-minded and work with all Americans. It's too bad that more people in Washington don't feel the same way.