Last month on Saturday, May 18, I binned a column with the headline “The Macri-Pichetto ticket,” complete, as always, with its Pablo Temes photo composition (which is now published). It so happened that on that day Cristina announced that Alberto Fernández would be her presidential candidate and no other issue was more important. The political scenario had changed completely.
It was not until a week later that I recovered in another column (Los candidatos “careta”, in Perfil.com) the inner workings as described in that discarded text which anticipated the ticket confirmed last week. What follows is the incredible story of how a historic Peronist came to be the running-mate of a sui generis neo-conservative based on the hunch of a Cambiemos official and a Jorge Fontevecchia interview.
A FIRST INKLING
I heard the Pichetto hypothesis for the first time at 1.30pm on Thursday, May 16 in the Pink House. The official explaining it was convinced that his name would be a strong message to the “red circle” establishment and to the markets but he also said that his idea had not resonated among the few colleagues with whom he had shared it. One of them had been his boss, Marcos Peña, the only one who at least listened without ruling out the idea. Nobody was talking then about that electoral duo. And nor was Pichetto.
The Peronist found out the next day via PERFIL when I called him to settle a doubt: What would he say if he knew that his name had been circulating in the Pink House?
His initial reaction was amazement. It had never crossed his mind that anybody in Macri’s team would think of him. He replied that at present he was dedicated to rounding out the construction of Alternativa Federal together with Roberto Lavagna, Sergio Massa, Juan Manuel Urtubey and Juan Schiaretti, although he was visibly dismayed by Lavagna’s doubts over competing in a primary and Massa’s flirtation with Kirchnerism. He also showed himself disillusioned with the way certain Peronists were approaching Cristina, whom he described as authoritarian. The same as he was saying in public. The hypothesis of sharing a possible ticket with Macri seemed to him an idea from another galaxy yet at no time in our telephone chat did he rule it out completely. Indeed, before he hung up, he argued that in his view the only grieta rift in Argentina is between those who envisage a republican system and those who propose an authoritarian model.
“The grieta,” he concluded, “is Cristina on one side and the rest on the other. As for me, between Macri and her I have no doubt whom I would support.”
My column the next day was to have given some of these details together with a one-on-one meeting that week in the Senate between Pichetto and Interior Minister Rogelio Frigerio (not a word on this issue but they did discuss the government’s 10 consensus points, which had met with the senator’s approval). It would also mention the phrase with which Macri on the inside thanked the Peronist for his trip to the United States in late April to calm the markets with both the dollar and country risk shooting up: “Pichetto,” repeated the President in those days, “has ceased being a simple senator who votes according to sectorial convenience and has turned into a statesman.”
My interpretation was that, over and above the Pichetto hypothesis, the complex moment of the government for traversing the economic turbulence of the electoral campaign lay exposed. And its dismay in the face of a Cristina growing in the opinion polls and an Alternativa Federal which threatened to embody the “antigrieta” feeling of part of society.
But it was all postponed that weekend by the eruption of “Fernández-Fernández”. I wrote about a Macri-Peronist ticket a week later (Sunday, May 26) under the subheading “Macri and his running-mate.”
Following this publication, an important official explained to me that any chance was practically ruled out.
THREE WEEKS LATER
I did not return to this issue until Friday, June 7. Basically because for weeks the alternatives for the bottom half of the Macri ticket passed elsewhere, especially the bid to convince Ernesto Sanz to accept. In government eyes, no combination seemed better but the problem was nobody managed to convince him to leave the tranquillity of his Mendoza retreat.
Only with the Sanz option ruled out did that wild idea discarded almost a month ago begin to gain ground. That Friday night (June 7) a usually well informed source close to the senator tipped me that the ticket would be Macri-Pichetto. I could not begin to confirm it until Monday morning (June 10) when I spoke to the senator.
It took me 10 minutes to pop the question I wanted. First I had to listen to his disappointment with his “third way” comrades and with the Peronists lining up behind Cristina. Then I came to the point: there had been no formal proposal from anybody in government and he was still surprised they thought of him, also wondering if that proposal (if it ever came) would include other Federal Peronist leaders. So great was his distance from being Macri’s running-mate in this conversation that, according to his analysis, if the Macri government wanted a new consensus with “republican Peronism”, the best option would be Alejandra Vigo (a Córdoba deputy and Schiaretti’s wife) as running-mate.
He neither seemed to believe that he really was the chosen one nor sure of its convenience. Nevertheless, it was clear that the possibility did not bother him.
But was it true that nobody from government had sounded him out since our talk weeks ago, I asked. He repeated not. Only afterwards did he receive a call from Frigerio along those lines and the next day another from Carlos Grosso, with whom he maintains a frequent dialogue. Grosso is close to Jaime Durán Barba.
THE REAL BEGINNING
There was a previous bond uniting the destinies of Macri and Pichetto. In that Pink House meeting in which I heard about this issue for the first time, I asked what might be Durán Barba’s opinion when he returned from a trip abroad. The official’s reply was that the Cambiemos strategist had had a good image of the senator ever since their joint interview by Jorge Fontevecchia last October (which was reprinted last Sunday).
Accompanying that interview on the back page, Fontevecchia explained that he invited both “with the aim of contributing to mutual understanding between the different political sectors and building real bridges between the government and opposition”. He added that the idea of bringing them together stemmed from the senator continuously criticising the strategist as the man responsible for the government’s policy of rejecting agreements with the opposition (calling him “the Laclau of PRO”).
In that interview, Pichetto and Durán Barba had a field day from the start criticising common enemies such as the Pope, Elisa Carrió and what they called “the left.” Also their views on the legalisation of abortion and on Cristina Kirchner conserving her parliamentary immunity until any sentence is confirmed. And there was a mutual seduction when they spoke of the intellectual respect each had for the other although they had never sat down to a dialogue. They differed over the economic achievements of Cambiemos, the protection of industry and their vision of the role of the traditional parties.
From then onwards there surged an empathy which proved to be the key to the Pichetto surname passing the Durán Barba filter. But joining the ticket was not the first option for the consultant. Although when he did start evaluating it, his support was immediate – to the initial empathy were added the hard data of the opinion polls. Those who believe that Durán Barba is a man who only accepts a “young woman far removed from the traditional parties” for the ticket are wrong. The historic and controversial PERFIL contributor only takes into account the historic and social context in which a campaign unfolds as indicated by his studies.
A while ago he was consulted by a Paraguayan presidential candidate. His advice was to stick to the Colorado party colours and symbols. Nothing about young women or extra-party candidates. His strategies adapt themselves to the country and to the moment, not the other way around.
In this case, measurements of the Macri-Pichetto ticket had indicated more chances of success than others, aside from his presumed political attributes.
What followed was an investigation into any weak flanks (personal, professional, ethical, economic), imagining that those would be punished by the opposition. The result was affirmed to be satisfactory.
Finally, on Tuesday, June 11 at 3pm the President himself had called him to ask him if he would join his ticket. Since the previous day Pichetto had imagined that this call could take place and had made the decision to answer yes. Then he notified his associates Lavagna, Massa, Urtubey and Schiaretti of this novelty.
After hanging up, Macri transmitted the conversation to his team: “He said yes at once and unconditionally.” Later he asked if the senator had transmitted any claim. The answer was no and they compared this maliciously with the four sheets which Massa had tried to impose before agreeing to join María Eugenia Vidal’s ticket.
That was how what a month ago had been a wild theory in a press scenario became reality.
The ticket may be read as a (belated) recognition by the government of a social demand to end the idiotic narrative of the grieta, which hurts confidence and has economic consequences.
It also shows how politics can shift economic expectations – in these weeks there has been no need to sell reserves nor raise interest rates to contain the dollar, lower country risk and make the Bolsa stock exchange climb.
Macri’s team are experts in applying successful strategies to win elections. If they pull it off again, it should demonstrate that the politics of consensus is more useful in the long run than the electoralitis of permanent polarisation.
It would be a better government and that would be good for everybody.