Former president Juan Domingo Perón spent 17 years without setting foot in Argentina. In 1972, when he was preparing to return from exile, the once powerful general said that he was now “a herbivorous lion” — a message intended to reassure his opponents, especially the military regime in power. Javier Milei’s transformation from the raging lion that roared against the entire political caste to one apparently tamed by former president Mauricio Macri has been much faster.
In a 2019 interview, Milei — who had not yet been elected a deputy — described Macri as “disgusting” and the far-right leader’s government as “socialist.” This was just a week after the Juntos por Cambio (Together for Change) leader was voted out of office. More recently, just a few months ago, Milei also accused Macri of being “lukewarm, timid, mediocre and a coward.” The vitriol was short-lived. After coming in second place in the first round of the presidential election on October 22, Milei quickly changed his tune.
The night after the vote he met with Macri, and Patricia Bullrich, the presidential candidate of Together for Change, who came in third place and was knocked out of the race. Despite his previous criticism, Milei secured their endorsement ahead of the November 19 runoff, where he will face Economy Minister Sergio Massa. Now it appears that his key campaign slogan — “it is impossible to create a different Argentina with the same people as always” — doesn’t apply to them.
Milei claims that Argentina has been called to vote between “the political caste or freedom,” but that political caste is now only applied to Massa and the left-wing Peronist movement to which he belongs. According to Milei, voters must choose between “continuing this downward model, represented by Massa, the political caste, which is surrounded by political crooks,” or change.
Macri — whom Milei now addresses as president, even though he was voted out four years ago — is part of that change. The radical libertarian said he and Macri agree “on 90% of things.” In a recent interview, he also thanked Bullrich and Macri for their “unconditional support” for his presidential candidacy.
By including Macri in his ranks, Milei wins a vast network of political and media support for his hard-fought electoral campaign. If he is elected into office, his relationship with Together for Change will also make it easier for him to reach agreements in the Cabinet and in the legislative chambers. But it remains to be seen whether his voters will accept the discursive pirouettes of someone who repeatedly described themselves as an outsider willing to “exterminate entrenched politicians.” Now he has done a major U-turn, and is negotiating with one of the politicians with the worst image.
In 2018, when Milei had not yet made the leap into politics, he often attacked Macri, who was president at the time. “Macri is a social democrat, that is, he is from the left. He is like the Democratic Party in the United States, but a stupid version,” Milei said in a television interview held in mid-November of that year. In that same talk, he also called him a fascist. “Macri is a fascist, look what he did with the end-of-year bonus. Does it seem right to you that someone comes by force to alter a contract established by two parties?”
At that time, he claimed that he would never run as a candidate because he had great contempt for politics. “I think it is a dirty, cheap, stupid art. Yes, I would be willing to take the reins of the central bank, to eliminate it,” he responded. Three years later, he recanted and created the far-right party La Libertad Avanza (Freedom Advances) to run for a seat in Congress.
Milei was the most voted presidential candidate in the August primaries, but lost the first round: he won 30%, seven points behind Massa. That same day, he turned off the chainsaw and moderated his speech. His transformation had begun.
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