The first recorded uses of the word speculation date back to the fourteenth century, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, from which it evolved from “rapt attention” to “pursuit of the truth by means of thinking,” explains the Online Etymology Dictionary. By 1774 it had morphed into “buying and selling in search of profit from rise and fall in market value,” which in turn takes its connotation from positive to negative. Interestingly, it could be argued that as our intellectual and academic capacities grew, we took our speculative capacities from the quest for philosophical truths to the pursuit of personal welfare.
This latter definition is what probably best suits what political leaders not named Mauricio Macri or Cristina Fernández de Kirchner have spent the last few years doing, probably to disastrous individual consequences. The “Federal Alternative” banner appears to have collapsed on itself, as the collective greed of its founders hasn’t resulted in the consensus-building the alliance was supposedly built on, meaning that rather than looking to overcome the pestilent grieta, they played it perfectly for Macri and Cristina.
Sergio “Petty Advantage” Massa, as the Renewal Front leader was nicknamed by Macri (“ventajita”), has kept his cards close to his chest. One of the founders of Alternativa Federal, Massa has remained consistent with his message of competing in the upcoming PASO primaries for the presidency, making it clear he would step aside if the votes determined it. Yet, he knew he would probably edge out former Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna, Senate Minority Leader Miguel Angel Pichetto, and Salta Governor Juan Manuel Urtubey. That’s exactly the reason why Lavagna, the supposed experienced candidate, said he wouldn’t compete in said primary. “It’s me or nothing,” he seems to be yelling, just as he professes that a unity candidate is needed to generate conversations, negotiations, and consensus across party lines. Interesting way of painting himself into a corner, while showing institutional maturity.
Apparently holding the keys to this whole puzzle, Massa stands at the middle of a sort of tug of war between people who dislike him. Proclaiming that a new “opposition majority” is needed to defeat the government at his party’s national convention this week, Massa gave himself the mandate of negotiating with anyone he pleases for the sake of the nation. Essentially, this means the covert conversations with CFK’s running-mate, Alberto Fernandez, must find a resolution soon. The problems is Massa wants the presidency, which is currently Alberto’s, and even though Cristina loathes him, son Máximo and her mustachioed presidential candidate are urging her to hold her nose and allow him to run for the Governorship of Buenos Aires Province. Peronists are known for their flexibility, yet in this case the former two-term president would prefer her lapdog, Axel Kicillof. As he was congratulated on social media for being allowed to lead the ticket for Governor, the former Economy Minister downplayed the rumours, noting they were still waiting for Massa to make up his mind. “We won’t wait for him forever,” he warned.
Yet Massa’s keys might not unlock the right doors. What the man from Tigre supposedly stands for, an alternative to both Macri and Cristina to overcome the grieta, is becoming more unfeasible by the minute. Alternativa Federal has practically lost the support of every Peronist governor, with the notable exception of Juan Schiaretti. Interestingly, Mr. Schiaretti won Córdoba by a landslide, seemingly claiming to lead Federal Peronism so as to unite behind a centrist candidate, then disappeared into vacations for a couple of weeks. No-one knows where he went but speculation puts him somewhere in Brazil.
As both Jorge Fontevecchia and Gustavo González explained in their respective columns in Perfil last week, society’s demand for dialogue, moderation, and consensus created an opportunity for the likes of Massa and Lavagna that is now being harvested by President Macri and Senator Fernández de Kirchner. Cristina has stepped aside magnanimously, giving Alberto the lead role. This means she reduces her campaign appearances, which translates into less speeches and therefore less erosion of her support base. The former Cabinet Chief has already had secret meetings with Clarín Group’s Hector Magnetto, secured the support of Alternativa Federal’s Peronist governors, and is actively courting Massa, which would effectively absorb the supposed “third alternative.” Heck, they could even win the whole thing in the first round.
Macri has also become a listener, calling for a pact to take the nation forward while inviting his allies to question his authority. He appears willing to even consider a vice-president from the Radical Civic Union (UCR), who this week held their national convention and resolved to remain within the Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition. It’s not entirely clear what the Radical party could’ve aspired to in any other scenario. The President has shown more interest in Peronists than his own allies, though, as he’s shown himself with the likes of Schiaretti and Urtubey more than with Radicals. If Cristina’s decision to not lead the ticket is a demonstration of acknowledging weakness, so is Macri’s.
Yet, their speculation seems to work towards their strategy. Not so Alternativa Federal’s, or Lavagna’s. Massa, though, could still get what he wants. Not what he wants most, that’s almost discarded, but a Cabinet post in a future Kirchnerite government could be more than what he should get given his cards. He’s proven sleight of hand in the art of speculation before.