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Q & A: Top Mexican Presidential Candidate on Trump, Hillary Clinton

Margarita Zavala, a former first lady of Mexico and current presidential candidate, speaks with NBC News.
Image: Mexican presidential candidate, Margarita Zavala, speaks at a meeting of Scientific Journalism
Mexican presidential candidate, Margarita Zavala, speaks during the 2nd Latin American Meeting of Scientific Journalism at the International Culture Centre 'Oscar Niemeyer' on October 10, 2011 in Aviles, northern Spain. fileJ.L. Cereijido / EPA file

Margarita Zavala, a former first lady of Mexico and member of Congress, is a leading candidate in her country’s 2018 presidential election, which President Donald Trump is already influencing.

Zavala, who is married to former President Felipe Calderón and referred to as the "Hillary Clinton of Mexico" in local media reports, spoke with NBC News about Trump’s "useless" border wall, how Trump turned Mexicans into a "convenient enemy," and whether she thinks Michelle Obama should run for public office. The election will take place in July of next year. You and others have said Mexico won’t pay for President Trump’s border wall, but he tweeted again this week that Mexico will “ some form" pay?

Zavala: We will never, never pay for the wall. In Mexico, we have always talked about our lack of agreement with the wall. What he’s proposing is a false solution to a false problem. Why do you think Trump wants a wall then?

Zavala: What Donald Trump has done is create an enemy. Mexicans have served as a convenient enemy to rally his supporters. But the wall is useless. Net migration is negative, it’s not really an issue. And more importantly for us, the wall does not help in any way help the relationship between the two countries. The wall is pulling us apart. After being critical of Trump, how would you work together with him if elected?

A: The U.S. and Mexico have a living and very powerful relationship. We have the most active border in the world. Our bilateral trade is among the largest in the world. We could talk about security, the environment, energy, electricity — there’s a lot of issues that we have in common and we need to learn how to live together.

But the U.S. has to decide: What kind of a relationship does it want with Mexico? I think Donald Trump and the United States have a lot to lose if we don’t get along, so it’s time to decide how we’re going to conduct our relationship in the future. What do you think of comparisons between you and Hillary Clinton?

Zavala: There are some similarities, but the two countries are very different. I think life has prepared me to lead this country to a new place, farther than any previous government has taken it. You spent time with Michelle Obama when you visited Washington as first lady. Would you like to see her run for political office?

Zavala: I had the opportunity to personally know and work with two U.S. presidents from both parties. And I had a personal relationship with Michelle. I think she’s a great leader and a great person, and she’ll know what to do in time. But for me, I’m focused on Mexico.