After Trudeau snub, what Trump really wants from López Obrador summit

Samantha Vinograd is a CNN national security analyst. She is a senior adviser at the University of Delaware's Biden Institute, which is not affiliated with the Biden campaign. Vinograd served on President Barack Obama's National Security Council from 2009 to 2013 and at the Treasury Department under President George W. Bush. Follow her @sam_vinograd. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.

(CNN)After world leaders bailed on visiting the US this summer, one world leader drew the short straw and doesn't seem to mind it.

 Sam Vinograd
Donald Trump is finally going to spend quality time with a peer. His Wednesday summit with Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has been touted as a celebration of the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement (aka NAFTA 2), which a White House statement describes as "the largest, fairest, and most balanced trade agreement ever negotiated."
    Canada's Justin Trudeau, the third party in the trilateral agreement, won't be there. Amid concerns about new US tariffs on Canadian aluminum exports and surging coronavirus infections, Prime Minister Trudeau's office announced Monday that he wouldn't be traveling to Washington after all.
    López Obrador, the leader of a country Trump has maligned for years, is still showing up. He even flew on commercial planes to make the summit. But don't be fooled by smiles and waves - Donald Trump has done enormous damage to the US relationship with Mexico. AMLO may be making a desperate and naive attempt to appease Trump and get some positive headlines, but he's betting on the wrong horse here in so many ways.
    With the Mexican president in tow, it's clear that Trump's trying to distract from the fact that he's cloaked in horrifying news -- whether it's the pandemic, the economy, or the racism that now pervades his almost every move. For Trump, everything's a campaign opportunity, especially when cameras are rolling. That's why we can expect him to use this meeting to do what he does best: lie about the reality of his actions and misrepresent the positive impact of the deals he signs.
    The truth is, beating up on Mexico has been one of his greatest hits. While he may momentarily hit pause on his xenophobic diatribes and may, briefly, stop using immigrants from Mexico as bogeyman to satiate his base -- no one, including AMLO, should think it will last. Trump's game with this summit is so obvious it hurts: cast the implementation of the USMCA as an economic tailwind amid a brutal economic downturn and use AMLO as a sign that he isn't actually xenophobic or anti-Hispanic.
    Well, Mr. President, we Americans aren't that easy. We see you, and your record. Your actions speak louder than any words you may utter from the Oval Office at your summit.
    It's exactly because of Trump's inaccurate, insulting, and frankly abhorrent comments about Mexicans -- not to mention his actions toward Mexico and immigrants and asylum seekers there -- that AMLO has been under pressure from his critics to cancel his Washington visit, his first foreign trip since he took office in 2018. But he's still willing to take the political risk of making the trip likely out of a determination that he needs to propagate some good trade news and safeguard the $600 billion commercial relationship. He clearly isn't a student of recent history. Trump is already threatening more tariffs on Canada, despite the fact that Canada signed the same trade agreement, for example.
    What's more, Trump is not a popular figure in Mexico. His approval rating in the country was about 8% in January, which doesn't come as a shock based on his longstanding, inaccurate comments linking Mexican immigrants to crime, his demand that Mexico pay for his border wall and his threats to close the border well before Covid-19-related restrictions. Trump has used Mexico as a scapegoat for a lot of bees in his bonnet, from the economy to immigration and more.
    AMLO's insistence on coming to the White House feels desperate. Traveling on a commercial flight in the midst of a pandemic to visit with the man who consistently bullies your country and insults your people doesn't scream self-confidence.
    But this may be a case of birds of a feather flocking together.
    Like Trump, AM