López Obrador, or AMLO, as he is also called, won fifty-three per cent of the vote, leaving his nearest rivals, including Ricardo Anaya of the conservative PAN party, far behind. Not only did López Obrador win; the party that he founded a few years ago—the Movement for National Regeneration—also won a majority of seats in both houses of the national legislature, and it took five of the nine governorships that were up for grabs. It was, as they say, a real sweep.
Enter López Obrador, an unabashed left-wing politician who has built up a base of national support through good old-fashioned grassroots campaigning over the past twenty years. By any definition, he is an extraordinary political figure. Born and raised in the state of Tabasco, a Gulf Coast backwater, López Obrador is a curious blend. An unassuming man of simple tastes and a reputation for personal austerity, he is also a published historian with a half-dozen books to his name, and he’s a passionate follower—and player—of baseball. On Sunday, at the age of sixty-four, he has also become the most powerful person in Mexico, someone who promises to end the country’s culture of corruption and to launch it into a new era—what he calls the “fourth Mexican transformation.” The first came with Mexico’s independence from Spanish colonial rule, in 1821; the second with Benito Juárez’s liberal reforms and his return to power, after ousting the French-imposed Habsburg emperor Maximilian, in the eighteen-sixties; the third was the epochal and bloody Mexican Revolution, in the early twentieth century. López Obrador promises that his transformation will be a peaceful one.
For a recent piece for the magazine, I accompanied López Obrador on three separate campaign trips and had several conversations with him. The main feeling I came away withwas that López Obrador has a strong sense of historic purpose in what he is doing, and that he genuinely believes in the ability of Mexicans to rise above their circumstances with his help. Those who have compared his populism to Trump’s are fundamentally mistaken, in my view; López Obrador’s populism is built not on a hatred of “the other,” or on a need to prevail at the expense of others, but rather on an intuitive faith that Mexicans can overcome their current reality with a redeployment of their most outstanding national traits—hard work, resourcefulness, pride, modesty, and bravery.