“We forgave each other,” Patricia Bullrich told the Herald when asked about her decision to endorse her friend-turned-enemy-turned-friend, libertarian presidential candidate Javier Milei.
Accusations of irresponsibility, “casta” (caste), and kindergarten bombing are now water under the bridge. Months of public animosity were washed away by the cleansing showers of one face-to-face meeting, anthropomorphized cartoon affection between a lion and a duck, and a shared disdain for Kirchnerism.
The endorsements, made unilaterally by Bullrich and former President Mauricio Macri without the accord of their Propuesta Republicana (PRO) party, sent shockwaves through the political spectrum, particularly opposition coalition Juntos por el Cambio (JxC), which now seems likely to split up.
The leaders of the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR) and Coalición Cívica (CC), both JxC member parties, said that they would not endorse the libertarian and criticized Macri and Bullrich’s decisions. “I’m embarrassed for her,” said UCR head Gerardo Morales of Bullrich. Coalición Cívica leader Elisa Carrió, meanwhile, said that Macri had succumbed to his “dark side.”
The UCR, Argentina’s oldest political party, will not “participate in a government permeated by Kirchnerism,” said Morales. But “obviously Milei is worse,” he added. Both CC and UCR’s leadership have elected to remain neutral, backing neither Milei nor Economy Minister Sergio Massa.
That leaves a massive leadership vacuum in the center of the political spectrum that both the Peronist and the libertarian will work to capture.
Milei is working to do so by picking up endorsements from establishment political figures, chiefly Bullrich and Macri. But some of Milei’s policies — as well as his personal conduct — are anathema to many within JxC, including high profile members (such as Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta) of the Propuesta Republicana (PRO) party, of which Bullrich is currently president.
So big is the gap between many JxC voters and Milei that certain pollsters, including Proyección CC, one of the few to predict a Massa win during the first round, foresee 14% of Bullrich voters migrating to Massa and 24.1% going to Milei. The rest — nearly 62% — remain undecided, won’t vote, or will cast a blank ballot.
“Party discipline broke with Bullrich’s press conference,” Santiago Giorgetta, director of Proección CC, told the Herald. “It would be an enormous error” to assume that all of Bullrich’s voters would necessarily swing to Milei, he added.
Some within Milei’s La Libertad Avanza party have also rejected the alliance, accusing the libertarian of reneging on his promise to never do business with the “caste” that he regularly attacks. Liliana Salinas, a provincial deputy from Entre Ríos province, said that she would abandon the party over Milei’s decision, which she said had “broken everything that we had created.”
Longtime Milei acolyte Luis Barrionuevo, head of the Hotel, Tourism, and Gastronomy Workers’ Union, similarly blasted Milei’s pact with Bullrich and Macri. Barrionuevo dropped his support for Milei, saying that Bullrich’s presence in the candidate’s campaign “contradicts the pillars” that initially drew the union leader to the libertarian.
Some, including Jaime Durán Barba, a former advisor to President Macri, speculated that the decision to include Macri and Bullrich could damage Milei’s credentials as an outsider, dilute his messaging, and ultimately harm him at the polls.
Others, including Giorgiotta, remained unconvinced, citing the strong loyalty of Milei’s base. Instead, Giorgiotta said, “the main conflict Milei will have is with Juntos por el Cambio voters, who don’t feel represented by Milei…. They don’t feel represented by Massa either, but they have more points in common with Sergio Massa than with Milei.”
Those are precisely the voters that Massa will be targeting moving into the November 19 run-off.
And with the wind of last Sunday’s surprisingly strong performance at his back, Massa now has more ammunition with which to fight Milei for the political center. His strategy for attracting moderates will likely be threefold.
First, as promised by the Economy Ministry earlier this month, he will do whatever possible to maintain currency stability ahead of the second round. A US$6.5 billion currency swap extension with China should help those efforts. But Massa will need to contend with the fact that Milei, whose flagship policy proposal is dollarization, has plenty of motivations to stir further distrust in the peso.
Second, Massa, along with Juntos por el Cambio, spent the final weeks of the campaign explicitly addressing fears that many voters have towards Milei, either because of his explosive rhetoric or his unconventional policies. The Peronist candidate will surely stick with that messaging. As his camp did with the public transport subsidy opt-out scheme, Massa will continue to highlight the real-life implications of Milei’s policies.
At the same time, he might seize on Milei’s alliance with Macri and Bullrich to paint the libertarian as a hypocrite vis-à-vis the libertarian’s relationship to the “caste”, just as Bullrich did in the final weeks of her campaign.
Third, he’ll work to balance promises of change while conveying levelheadedness, responsibility, and policy predictability. As he works to build a big-tent coalition heading into the runoff, Massa, a known dealmaker, will likely court moderate members of the UCR, CC, as well as Hacemos por Nuestro País anti-Kirchnerist Peronist candidate Juan Schiaretti, who took 6.8% of votes last Sunday.
To do so, he’ll have to toe a fine line — maintaining the support of the more hardline Peronist base while presenting himself as not beholden to it.