A ranting former Mexican president manages to offend retirees, Jews and the French

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - NOVEMBER 13: Former Mexican President Vicente Fox Quesada and leader of the National Action Party, Marko Cortes, join a demonstration against Mexican President Lopez Obradors proposed electoral reforms at Reforma Avenue. On November 13, 2022 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo credit should read Luis Barron / Eyepix Group/Future Publishing via Getty Images)
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It has been 23 years since Vicente Fox won the Mexican presidency, a historic victory that ended seven decades of one-party rule and ushered in democracy.

Out of office, Fox has also broken tradition. Instead of shutting up, shunning publicity and staying out of politics like other former presidents, he has often been a cantankerous, right-wing scold in the news and on social media.

Now his caustic commentary has caused a furor in the current race for president. In the last week or so, Fox has maligned poor retirees and Jews while pandering to xenophobes.

His outbursts were meant to damage candidates from the party of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador — Fox’s longtime political antagonist — and boost the chances of his favored contender.

Instead, Fox sparked an outcry that political experts say could make him a liability for Xóchitl Gálvez, a senator from the National Action Party, or PAN, who has emerged as Fox’s favorite candidate and a spirited challenger to López Obrador’s Morena movement in next year’s elections.

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The blowup began last week when Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive, griped that he has been “battling to survive economically” since López Obrador discontinued monthly pensions and other benefits for retired presidents. At the same time, he excoriated less well-off beneficiaries of public welfare programs.

“The lazy ones don’t belong in the government or in the country,” Fox, who recently turned 81, told the Latinus website, using an offensive slang word to denigrate both politicians and pensioners.

He also suggested that Gálvez would cut back public aid and send more people back to work.

Gálvez’s political rhetoric has lauded the value of work, and she denies López Obrador’s assertions that she favors cutting social aid programs for the needy.

López Obrador, who is limited to one term as president, and Morena enjoy high approval ratings in no small part because of his administration’s social initiatives and grants to the elderly, students, the disabled and others at the bottom of the income ladder.

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Morena candidates jumped on the provocative comments from Fox, whose penchant for verbal blunders was a problem during his presidency.

“Our movement will continue to be allied with the people whom [the opposition] belittle,” Claudia Sheinbaum, a former mayor of Mexico City who is regarded as the Morena front-runner to succeed López Obrador, wrote on Twitter.

Marcelo Ebrard, an ex-foreign minister competing for the Morena presidential nomination, also assailed Fox’s assault on aid recipients.

“What did señor Fox say? That social programs have to be done away with, and we are a bunch of lazy people?” Ebrard asked at a campaign event in western Colima state. “Did you see that? Isn’t that outrageous?”

But Fox wasn’t finished.

Tweeting to his more than 1 million followers, Fox dismissed Sheinbaum as a “Bulgarian Jew” and called Ebrard a “French snob.”

Sheinbaum is of eastern European Jewish ancestry. Ebrard is of French descent.

The tweet from Fox, himself of Spanish and German lineage, concluded: “The only Mexican is Xóchitl!”

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In the ensuring uproar, Mexicans across the political spectrum denounced Fox’s ill-advised attempt at humor.

“What lamentable comments from the ex-president!” tweeted Luis Carlos Ugalde, who served as president of Mexico’s Federal Election Institute during part of Fox’s presidential term. “He denigrates his status. If he wants to help Xóchitl Gálvez, his best contribution would be prudence, respect and, above all, silence.”

Even Gálvez joined in the litany of condemnation.

“No more hate and division,” tweeted Gálvez, who served as coordinator of Indigenous affairs in Fox’s Cabinet and touts her Indigenous roots.

Fox removed the posting and issued an apology, asserting that he had mistakenly retweeted someone else’s remark. “I have a profound respect for the Jewish community,” Fox wrote.

But the incident raised the specter of future campaign mudslinging — especially targeting Sheinbaum, who would be Mexico’s first female president and the country’s first leader of Jewish ancestry.

Sheinbaum has already responded to insinuations that she was “a foreigner,” posting her birth certificate on Twitter to show she was born in Mexico City to Mexican parents and declaring that she was “more Mexican than mole” — the traditional sauce.

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Gálvez, an engineer and tech entrepreneur from humble origins, has faced withering broadsides from López Obrador, who has depicted her as tool of Fox and the rich.

That criticism, too, may have had unintended consequences. Political experts say the tirades made López Obrador look like a bully and helped Gálvez vault from long-shot candidate to potential front-runner in an opposition coalition formed to thwart López Obrador’s Morena political machine.

In September, both the opposition alliance and Morena are scheduled to name their presidential candidates for June’s national elections. Gálvez, meanwhile, has distanced herself from Fox, the elder statesman and onetime political mentor who has become campaign kryptonite.

At an appearance in Puebla on Tuesday, Gálvez told reporters: “I don’t need … an ex-president and a president speaking about me. The two say things that aren’t true.”

Special correspondent Cecilia Sánchez contributed to this report.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.