Underdog Macri looks for any approach that sticks

10th October 2019

By Amadeo Gandolfo

Underdog Macri looks for any approach that sticks

Devoid of any positive economic indicators and with polls showing a 20-point difference between Alberto Fernández and him, President Mauricio Macri’s campaign tour across the country is trying multiple simultaneous appeals, ranging from a hard-right turn in immigration and security to the launch of multiple well-sounding campaign promises regarding education and the environment.

</p> <p>Although Macri’s turn to a more populist style has managed to <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2019/10/03/does-the-strong-mendoza-win-boost-macri-re-election-hopes-ucr-provinces-cambiemos">rally his base</a>, his promises sometimes border on the confusing or contradictory, and risk making him look like a disoriented candidate trying desperate approaches hoping that some of them might work.</p> <h2><strong>The right-wing appeal</strong></h2> <p>One of the clearest changes is the open “bolsonarization” of the campaign, spearheaded mostly by vice presidential candidate <a href="https://gettheessential.com/politics/2019/06/20/miguel-angel-pichetto-macri-right-wing-bolsonaro">Miguel Ángel Pichetto</a>. Although he had already been accused of xenophobia and hate speech at times in the past, the former leader of the Peronist caucus in the Senate took it to a new level over the past few days, taking another blow at the idea of Cambiemos as a progressive coalition in the image of former US president Barack Obama.</p> <p>In the last week alone, Pichetto said it is &#8220;wrong&#8221; that 40,000 Venezuelans who came to Argentina “without knowing the streets of Buenos Aires or the slang” are now working and taking <a href="https://www.clarin.com/politica/miguel-angel-pichetto-insiste-fiscalizacion-elecciones-usted-mesa-probablemente-cero-votos-_0_dG_3M7u5.html">jobs from Argentinians</a>; that some areas of slums should be “blown up” as they’re havens for drug dealing (conducted by Paraguayans); and that Argentina should <a href="https://www.clarin.com/politica/miguel-angel-pichetto-dijo-poner-visa-controlar-ingreso-extranjeros-pais_0_ier1XHlL.html">impose a visa</a> requirement for foreigners entering the country. All of this, presumably, is directed at fanning the most xenophobic element in Argentine society, in contrast with previous <em>Cambiemos</em> attempts to seduce middle class swing voters and progressives.</p> <p>This approach was replicated by Patricia Bullrich, another hawk in the governing coalition. One week ago she announced the &#8220;Train Offenders&#8221; program, which consists of <a href="https://www.perfil.com/noticias/politica/polemica-resolucion-habilita-policia-federal-pedir-dni-trenes.phtml">random background checks</a> by the police in all train stations. Alberto Fernández replied saying that it reproduced the logic of criminalization of the poor, since the train is overwhelmingly used by the working classes that commute from the Greater Buenos Aires to Buenos Aires city. Despite mounting criticism, the program debuted in full swing.</p> <h2><strong>The pro-life appeal</strong></h2> <p>Partially overlapping with the aforementioned right-wing turn is Macri’s appeal to the conservative religious vote, be it evangelical or catholic.</p> <p>Macri’s position on abortion had so far been more ambiguous, with people close to the administration sometimes boasting that the government gave the green light to last year’s congressional debate on the matter, where the bill for legalization ended up being narrowly defeated.</p> <p>Over the last few days, however, the President stated his commitment to pro-life views not once or twice, but thrice: in <a href="https://www.diario26.com/273306--macri-hablo-sobre-el-aborto-claramente-a-favor-de-las-dos-vidas">Mendoza last Saturday</a>, in <a href="https://www.infobae.com/politica/2019/10/08/en-un-acto-en-nequen-macri-volvio-a-hablar-del-aborto-las-dos-vidas-por-supuesto-todo-con-dios-que-nos-da-la-fuerza-todos-los-dias/">Neuquén on Sunday</a> and in <a href="https://www.pagina12.com.ar/224069-macri-beso-un-panuelo-celeste-y-un-pie-en-tucuman">Tucumán on Monday</a>.</p> <p>The strategy seems directed at the 2.63 percent of the electorate who supported Juan José Gómez Centurión during the primaries, as the former military officer outperformed pollsters expectations based on a strongly anti-abortion campaign. It also seems aimed at the most conservative and catholic provinces of Argentina, such as Mendoza and Tucumán. But it could also alienate the swing voters with ties to the pro-choice camp, many of whom had a good view of Macri based on his actions last year.</p> <h2><strong>The modernizing appeal</strong></h2> <p>After a tough four years, Cambiemos has lost the luster of being the party of modernization, technological advance and a new, lean public administration. But this didn&#8217;t stop Macri, who last Thursday promised English classes on every public education establishment, from kindergarten onwards. Macri added that “teleconferences” would be used in schools that are geographically isolated, and linked that to another promise, this time to give internet access to every public school, a shortfall that stands as a grievous handicap in Argentine education.</p> <p>The promise comes after the administration slashed the <em><a href="https://chequeado.com/el-explicador/conectar-igualdad-los-estudios-muestran-que-las-computadoras-mejoraron-el-aprendizaje-de-los-estudiantes/">Conectar Igualdad program</a></em>, created during the Fernández de Kirchner administration, which distributed laptops to kids in public high schools, and follows four years of on-and-off conflict between the government and school workers amid <a href="https://www.perfil.com/noticias/economia/cuanto-cayo-la-inversion-en-educacion-en-argentina.phtml">steady budget cuts</a> since Macri took office, so it is also likely to find backlash and disbelief.</p> <p>Still, Macri has insisted in making room for promises that could appeal to liberals and progressives, in contrast with the words of Pichetto, saying that the country should increase its use of renewable energy, cut the use of plastics and become a “<a href="https://www.telam.com.ar/notas/201910/397551-macri-propone-eliminar-plasticos-un-solo-uso-neutralizar-emisiones-carbono.html">carbon neutral</a>” country by 2050.</p> <h2><strong>A call for heroics</strong></h2> <p>The President has amped up his use of social networks over the last few weeks, communicating his latest proposals in long daily strings of tweets.</p> <p>Last week, Macri also took it to Twitter to proclaim that “Countries we admire rose up from tragedies and sufferings of apocalyptic proportions proclaiming ‘Yes, we can’. Our heroes and heroines, at any given point in history, were filled with uncertainty, but who strode forward telling themselves ‘Yes, we can’. What do you think (Argentine independence hero José de) San Martín thought when he crossed the Andes Mountains? ‘No, we can’t’? or ‘Yes, we can’?”</p> <p>The appeal to historical figures for comparisons, building a lineage which connects the hardships his administration is facing with the difficulties of founding fathers during the struggle for independence, suggests that what connects these scattered campaign efforts is the need for an against-all-odds turnaround of unprecedented proportions.</p> <h2><strong>Populist economic promises</strong></h2> <p>Macri has also raised the amount of populist economic promises since his defeat in the primaries, saying that now is the time for “growth, good wages and employment” and for “<a href="https://www.clarin.com/politica/mauricio-macri-euforico-relanzo-campana-dijo-viene-distinto-llega-mejora-salario-_0_Dy-6MaX1.html">relief</a>” for workers, tacitly admitting how the fall in real salaries during his administration has hit the majority of the country.</p> <p>This was coupled with a host of tax proposals: a <a href="https://www.filo.news/actualidad/Macri-prometio-baja-de-impuestos-para-pymes-y-monotributistas-20191001-0056.html">slash on income tax</a> for small and medium enterprises; rebates for companies which <a href="https://www.iprofesional.com/politica/301343-mauricio-macri-presidente-desempleo-Elecciones-Macri-propuso-beneficios-para-empresas-que-contraten-jovenes">hire young people</a>; and a tax exemption for self-employed workers.</p> <p>Nevertheless, the President has not given any concrete roadmap on how higher growth, wage recovery and tax cuts might be combined with promises of fiscal prudence and deficit reduction, which had until the loss in August taken center stage in Macri’s speaking appearances.</p> <p>The words read like classical populist discourse, often criticized by Cambiemos as the mark of Peronist candidates, promising people what they want to hear and, once in office, doing whatever is actually possible or preferred.</p> <p>Overall, the entirety of the official strategy seems geared towards telling different constituencies what they want to hear. The risk is, as always, that by trying to appeal to so many different sectors of society, it could end up appealing to none.</p> <p>

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Amadeo Gandolfo

Amadeo Gandolfo is an historian, journalist and researcher. He has worked at the CONICET (National Council For Scientific and Technical Research), writes at the Revista Crisis magazine and teaches at the University of Buenos Aires.