How the Casa Blanca Became a Signature Scandal for the President

Crisis, what crisis?

Everyone always blames communication when popularity falls, but sometimes creative messaging and the full court press of your PR machine cannot atone for the original sin.

President Peña Nieto is the most unpopular president of modern times, and the reason behind his unpopularity is perfectly clear to a foreign audience and to many Mexicans. Yet many inside the government believe it is poor communications.

Last Friday, in a carefully stage-managed piece of theater, the president’s employee Virgilio Andrade exonerated him of all crimes in the case of the “Casa Blanca”, a luxurious residence his wife bought just before he took office in 2012. The problem is that the seller was and is a successful government contractor and the terms of the sale were beyond generous.

Imagine the response if President Clinton had appointed a Little Rock buddy to investigate whether or not he lied about having sex with Monica Lewinsky. Nobody would have believed the results and the outrage would have been widespread, it would

I believe the president is innocent of breaking any laws, as is his Finance Minister, Luis Videgaray, who also bought a home from Grupo Higa.

But it doesn’t matter. In the eyes of the electorate their behavior looks shady.

The damage was done as soon as they decided to tough it out. The way to deal with a crisis like this is to establish an independent inquiry that makes the facts of the case public. If that is inconvenient, give the houses back and apologize for the way it looked.

Regardless of the propriety of the property deals, they look bad and appearances matter more than the truth in politics. If life is unfair, politics is even more unfair. Ask any minister who has lost his job because of stupid mistakes by his underlings. In England they call it ministerial responsibility, the man at the top pays the price, is sacrificed to the baying hounds of public opinion.

Rumor has it the Mexican president doesn’t read the newspapers. I am not sure that is true but he would be well advised to stay away from them this week because the opinion pages have roasted him.

It is a shame, because the oil, telecoms tax and energy reforms his government has implemented have changed the future of Mexico. It is hard to see a way back, but I hope for the sake of Mexico the president finds one.

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