In little over a week since officially entering Mexico’s 2012 Presidential contest, the campaign of the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (PRI) Enrique Peña Nieto already finds itself in full damage control following an embarrassing performance by the candidate during the presentation of his new book, and disparaging comments made by the candidate’s teenage daughter.
While speaking at the Guadalajara International Book Fair, Peña Nieto was asked to name three books that have shaped or informed his life. The Presidential candidate began by citing the Bible (while qualifying that he hasn’t read all of it “just parts”) and then proceeded to name partial titles of other books and mistaking the names of their authors. The three minute-long fumble (and accompanying stream of laughter from the crowd) would not of been as remarkable had it not been for the governor’s carefully guarded public image and reputation for being a polished and articulate politician.
The gaffe risks adding to perceptions that the candidate lacks depth and is simply the product of the country’s old guard and media duopoly (longtime supporters of Peña Nieto’s candidacy). Peña Nieto’s floundering also became an instant source for comedy on social networks, with twitter users offering book recommendations for the candidate under the hashtag #LibreriaPeñaNieto (Peña Nieto Library).
Further damage to Peña Nieto was added by his teenage daughter, Paulina Peña Nieto Pretelini, who came to her father’s defense by re-tweeting a message from her supposed boyfriend:
“Greetings to all of the idiots that form part of the proletariat and only criticize those they envy”
The tweet prompted an immediate closing of the adolescent’s twitter account and a public apology by her father (delivered via social networks of course). Apology withstanding, the damage by the young woman’s tweet had already been made. The classist overtones of the tweet revived feelings of elitism associated with the party (and people) who held Mexico’s presidency for an uninterrupted 71 years, and highlighted the country’s longstanding class divisions.
Peña Nieto’s long-held advantage in public opinion polls represents the PRI’s best shot at recapturing the office that it lost in the 2000 Presidential elections. The party’s popularity is an astonishing accomplishment for a group once synonymous with the corruption and authoritarianism of Mexico’s 71-year one-party rule. Peña Nieto’s fresh image and celebrity lifestyle (he is married to former soap-star Angelica Rivera) has for the most part succeeded in rebranding his party as one of youth, idealism, and competence. The elitism that Paulina Peña Nieto’s tweet projected is exactly the type of depiction that the party has worked to disassociate itself with.
While the candidate still holds a comfortable advantage over all likely opponents, his recent mistakes demonstrate Peña Nieto’s vulnerability to unscripted events and platforms not curated by the country’s media barons. Although Peña Nieto is sure to recover from this week’s mistakes, opponents should now feel greater confidence in their ability to attack the young governor and derail his seemingly inevitable victory.