Internal opposition: the maze of the hostages of Mauricio Macri

Mauricio Macri he is a political predator. He always was, although at one time some were confused by the rain of balloons and Gilda’s songs. But power is something he has in his veins, an instinct that will accompany him until his last day in this world. That is why you do not need to see the surveys that your team approaches you week by week, which show you in a constant rise in your 2021 image at this point, nor do you need to open your cell phone to review the messages in the red circle that promises support, but in his case it is all much more elementary: he feels it on his skin. And that instinct tells him, without any doubt, that if he wants to, if he just says yes, by the end of this year he will be the successor to Alberto Fernandez. He is convinced that if he agrees to become a candidate in 2023, he will start with his second term, with him as President. It is what his nose tells him, and Macri, who is above all a political animal, trusts that sense more than anything or anyone.

That certainty is a two-sided coin. The B side of the sky-high confidence that the former president has is a question that is repeated in each opposition camp and that has in suspense Patricia Bullrich, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and María Eugenia Vidal. What is Macri going to do? Together for Change is not only waiting for that answer: it is hostage to it. The ball, after three years in which half plus one of the space wanted to retire, is under the sole of the Calabrian. And in Italy such dishes are usually served cold.

Fight and come back? “How much did we get in 2019?” Macri asks aloud. He is in his farm in Los Abrojos, it is the end of last year and his numbers are already on the rise: his collaborators bring him surveys where the question “would you never vote for him?” Those consulted for the first time take pity on him . The answer to that question shows him, for the first time since he left power -and with him a country with a serious economic crisis and brutal indebtedness-, below 50 percent, that is to say with the necessary votes to win an eventual ballotage. The founder of the PRO, playing as well as a local at his home, now has the pleasure of putting himself in teacher mode, before an audience of a dozen politicians from his space who are going to run for municipal office in 2023 and went to look for their blessing. That is why it is Macri himself who clears up the doubt. “We got 41 percent,” he says after a theatrical pause, which he comes up with. “And whose do you think that 41 is?” This time there is no need to answer: everyone knows who you are talking about.

The head of the former president is now involved in a whirlwind of feelings, which the summer procession to his home in Cumelén only confirmed. “It looked like Perón in Puerta de Hierro”, they say on their team. It is that he not only feels that the numbers, those of the surveys and those of the inflation that does not stop rising, are vindicating his figure -and therefore that of his government-, but that it is the very spirit of the times that He’s finally giving you the reason. He synthesizes a meme that in these hot days ran through the cell phones of the macrista team. “Do you remember when the cat told you to put the air conditioning on 24 and you complained about the electricity rate? Well, now try putting on the fan (if you have light)”. Macri, in his innermost self, thinks something that he would not dare to say in public: that he was always right on issues as transcendental as the adjustment of public spending, but that the society that he had to govern was not yet ready for that. But now, the debacle of the Frente de Todos and the emergence of Javier Milei in the middle, they are ready.

This new reality also translates into endless speculation or operations about its future. That he plans to be a candidate in Boca by the end of the year -something that would be incompatible with his position as executive president of FIFA according to the football association’s statutes, but that was an idea that the xeneizes macristas themselves put forward, who still cannot find a strong candidate for the elections in the club-, who directly aims to succeed the Swiss Gianni Infantino at the head of FIFA -despite the fact that he still has several years left in office-, or that at the end of his last trip abroad he will a “big announcement” about his electoral future that was never in his plans and that he will stretch everything possible to continue having the ball under his foot. They’re not just rumors: they’re signs that they bark, Sancho.

Balance. Macri already has a first definition. It is, precisely, not giving any clue about his future until the last moment. In his team, they imagine that this moment could be May, a month before the lists close, although details are also beyond him.

Until then, and in silence, the former president is executing a plan. After discussing it hand in hand with Bullrich, Vidal and Jorge Macri, he agreed to send each of them a man he trusted to help them in their respective campaigns. With the president of the PRO it was Hernán Lombardi, Vidal had Darío Nieto and with his cousin Jorge, the envoy due Fernando de Andreis (see box). It was a three-way message. On the one hand, it gives implicit support to each of these pre-candidates, the first two for the Nation and the other for the Capital. On the other – although Guillermo Dietrich and Pablo Avelluto are giving a hand in the City – he shows a difference with Larreta: he did not send any member of his small team, a caveat that, depending on who is asked, contains a definition or not. “Horacio is running behind Mauricio’s sympathies today,” they say close to the former president, while in the Larretista environment they prefer another version: “What Mauricio is leveling the playing field, helping those he sees who need a hand the most.” Although it comes loaded with the intention of minimizing competitors, the latest version hits the nail on the head with a reality: the more even all the rest of Juntos is in voting intention, the more difference Macri makes. Keeping everyone even is keeping him on top. In this chess all the movements are studied.

Flashes. Macri and Larreta will meet again on Saturday the 25th, in San Antonio de Areco. It will not be a political rally and, in fact, the protagonist of the night deliberately took it upon herself to keep the presence of her work colleagues to a minimum. It is that María Eugenia Vidal, who on that day is going to celebrate her marriage with the journalist Enrique Sacco, avoided adding leaders or officials to the romantic day. There will be only six: the mayor of Buenos Aires, the former president, his former chief of staff Federico Salvai and his wife Carolina Stanley, former Minister of Social Development, Cristian Ritondo, his candidate for governor, and Emmanuel Ferrario, president of the Legislature of the City.

Will the marriage serve to iron out rough edges? Close to Macri, Bullrich and Vidal say that the relationship between the former president and Larreta is going through dark clouds. The versions are all similar: a “values” difference, an ideological one, which became apparent for the first time during the quarantine and the “management of freedoms”, which later worsened with some isolated incidents of broken phones and canceled appointments with little anticipation and now added a new chapter, perhaps definitive. It was because of Larreta’s presidential launch ad, where the mayor criticized “those who use the crack” and the frustrations after “years and years” of “betting on charismatic leaders.” “That didn’t sit well with Mauricio, he drove him crazy, he compared him to Néstor and Cristina,” they say close to Macri.

On the Larretista side they dismiss these darts, they assure that they were not against him and they insist on how productive the three solo meetings they held in Cumelén were, where they talked about how “they were losing the dynamic of speaking every day” and they recalled the days that “they were as one person.” However, they maintain moderate expectations. “The best thing would be for Macri to remain neutral, but, at the end of the road, he knows that he can trust Horacio, whom he has known for more than twenty years, more than anyone else.”

Final. Either way, neither Larreta nor Bullrich plan to wait for the former president’s blessing. On the side of the president of the PRO -who on paper would be the most affected, due to the affinity of votes, if Macri decides to run- they assure that in no way is she going to get off, no matter who plays. And they even have it measured. “Mauricio, in our numbers, has not yet taken off, and if he does not explicitly support us, he will have a problem: eight out of ten of his votes will end up in Patricia, he will not have room to do anything else.”

Those who have a daily dialogue with Macri laugh at all these speculations. “If Mauricio plays, they will all go down, at most there will be one radical left to star in a dignified defeat,” they say, and they even swear that this reality was discussed in person between the former president and the other PRO applicants, although neither Larreta nor Bullrich “they can admit it”. In this sense, the only one that made a difference is Vidal, who has already warned that if the former president of Boca decides to run, she will not compete.

So, if everything is so clear and the path appears smooth, what is it that prevents Macri from announcing his intentions to go for a rematch? On one side is the thesis of Emilio Monzó, who has been telling anyone who listens to him for two years that the former president could put the entire opposition in a lethal trap. “He would win by walking the internal, but in a ballottage -except against Cristina- he would lose, he has a clear ceiling”, is the analysis made by the former point guard of the PRO. Close to Macri, with their numbers in hand, they assure that the deputy is wrong. And that, instead, Macri’s ultimate reason will not be arithmetic or political calculation, but rather earthly. “Since he already knows what that chair is, he no longer has that unconsciousness that is needed to put his head in the lion’s den.” In Creole: the founder of the space lost, at some point along the way, the fuel required to lead a country with as many problems as Argentina. “But that is one thing and that they want to retire him, as several wanted to do, is another. That will never happen ”, they say close to him.

But this is, like everything in politics, just one still from a longer movie. Although today Macri is closer to no than to yes, those who know him admit that it could be difficult to stop him if his numbers, in these two months of definitions, continue to rise. “To see what Mauricio does is today the only thing that matters,” admits the priest of one of the PRO campaigns. And Macri smells it. He has a nose and he has an instinct. They will all have to dance to his rhythm.

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