MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexicans backed former President Vicente Fox in his verbal spat with Donald Trump on Friday, after Fox called the Republican front-runner "crazy" and a "false prophet" and Trump replied that he ought to be "ashamed of himself" for using a profanity.
In the streets of the capital, newspapers and social media, locals sided with the usually unpopular ex-leader over Trump, who is probably viewed even more negatively by Mexicans for campaign rhetoric denigrating immigrants as "rapists" who bring crime and drugs to the United States.
Folks also largely shrugged off Fox's use of an F-bomb in an interview with Univision's Jorge Ramos to emphasize that he has no intention of paying for Trump's border-wall plans.
"The vulgarity came from Vicente Fox's soul. Never better said. Never better targeted," columnist Francisco Garfias wrote for Excelsior.
"The sad thing, paraphrasing the late Umberto Eco, is that there are 'legions of idiots' who believe" Trump's assertions that he can force Mexico to pay for the wall, Garfias continued. "I'm not exaggerating when I say Trump is an embarrassment to his country."
Mexican media treated U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's apologies for inflammatory presidential campaign rhetoric about Mexico during a visit to the country as the day's biggest story, but the Trump-Fox spat got second billing.
One cartoon in La Jornada showed a grotesque-faced Trump waving a newspaper with Fox's comments and saying, "I demand respect ... Only I can use bad manners and bad words!"
Fox, a conservative cowboy type with warm ties to President George W. Bush, ended seven decades of uninterrupted rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party with his 2000 election as president. But Fox never regained the popularity with which he began his term, partly because he failed to conquer corruption and violence and was prone to verbal gaffes and family controversies.
Like Trump, Fox is famous for his outsider image, brash style and in-your-face language. He's also no stranger to high-profile spats. Once, after leaving office, Fox called Venezuela's then-President Hugo Chavez a "burro" (years earlier Chavez had accused Fox of being a "lapdog of the empire").
That history wasn't lost on some Mexicans, like Jesus Pinon, a resident of the northern state of Chihuahua.
"Vicente Fox says Donald Trump is a loudmouth, liar, ignorant and arrogant. Typical case of the donkey who talks about (someone else's) ears," Pinon, who uses the handle @JepsMeine, said via Twitter.
And Jose Gilberto Diaz Perez, a businessman and retired electrical company worker in Mexico City, said the thought Fox was a terrible president: "I trust Trump more than Fox."
But Federico Correch, a 32-year-old resident of the capital, appreciated that Fox stuck up for the country.
"He's probably right because (Trump) doesn't know Mexicans well," Correch said. "Donald Trump has said a lot about Mexicans when we have done many good things up there in the United States, no? He shouldn't express himself like that."
During Thursday night's Republican debate, Trump said Fox should be "ashamed" of such language — despite the candidate having mouthed the same word at a New Hampshire rally and used it several times in a 2011 speech before he was a candidate — and demanded an apology.
But Fox was having none of it the following day as he gave a series of interviews to Mexican media in which he also criticized Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, but saved his most pointed barbs for the real-estate magnate.
"This guy is an embarrassment to the Republican Party ... and his business colleagues," Fox told Imagen Radio, using another F-bomb to refer to the border wall.
"He is empty and lacks substance ... for a nation like the United States," Fox said. Addressing Trump's supporters, he added: "I ask you to open your eyes because this is a false prophet who will lead you to the precipice with all his ignorance."
"I agree with all that," said Irma Martinez Aguinaga, a 75-year-old poet in Mexico City.
Trump "wants to achieve his goals, well, may he do so," Martinez added. "But without walking all over us or threatening us or saying he's going to do all kinds of things to us. That's not right."
Peter Orsi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Peter_Orsi