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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 03-06-2023 06:08

Umpteen candidates in search of an author

If Horacio Rodríguez Larreta had again thwarted Mauricio Macri plans by imposing Fernán Quirós over Jorge Macri, this would have been three strikes and out in the PRO founder’s esteem – a hostility potentially fatal to the outgoing City mayor’s presidential ambitions.

The campaign has now entered the crunch month of June in which both alliances and candidates will be defined but not much in the way of definitions in these early days – only Jorge Macri as the sole PRO mayoral standard-bearer in this city.

Macri’s nomination last Tuesday was a chronicle foretold, long before the VAR of the three opinion polls favouring him over Buenos Aires City Health Minister Fernán Quirós, the pet choice of City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta. The latter could only welsh on a bargain with Macri’s ex-presidential cousin so many times. Firstly, Macri was pulled out of his comfort zone of the Vicente López mayoralty 18 months ago to be named City Hall’s Government (Interior) minister in order to remove him from the gubernatorial race in Buenos Aires Province in favour of Diego Santilli (deputy mayor until entering Congress in the 2021 midterms) – the understanding then was that Jorge Macri would be the mayor-in waiting instead. Then two months ago Mauricio Macri announced that he would not be seeking a return to the Casa Rosada – again the tacit understanding was that the Macri surname would be topping the mayoral if not the presidential ballot in exchange for thus clearing the way. If Rodríguez Larreta had again thwarted Macri plans by imposing Quirós, this would have been three strikes and out in the PRO founder’s esteem – a hostility potentially fatal to the outgoing City mayor’s presidential ambitions.

Apart from having extended mayoral as against ministerial experience (even if Vicente López could hardly be described as the most challenging of municipalities), Jorge Macri also offered a more fitting ideological profile for an electoral context obsessed with the possibly overrated libertarian challenge of Javier Milei. As a medical expert with no clear ideological identity, Quirós not only lacked appeal for those attracted by the latter but he might also have overlapped with the same middle ground which the Radical challenger for the Juntos por el Cambio coalition’s mayoral nomination, Senator Martín Lousteau, seeks to charm. The argument could also be presented that Quirós has proved far too good a health minister to be kicked upstairs to the level of his incompetence in keeping with the Peter principle.

In any case Rodríguez Larreta’s main bet had never been on Quirós, who aroused more enthusiasm in Civic Coalition leader Elisa Carrió than in his boss – the mayor’s consensus candidate to succeed him was deputy and ex-governor María Eugenia Vidal and once that did not work out, Jorge Macri was almost inevitable. Forced to back down, Rodríguez Larreta could at least heal his rift with ex-president Macri over the separation of municipal and national voting – this was reflected in Jorge Fontevecchia’s interview with Jorge Macri published in our May 6 edition where the latter (initially resentful of the system unilaterally imposed by the mayor as depriving him of the coat-tails of presidential hopefuls in his contest with Lousteau) celebrated this separation as making for a purely municipal debate without contamination from national issues.

If Rodríguez Larreta had previously refrained from loading the dice against Lousteau in the hope of ensuring Radical support for his presidential bid, there is one historical precedent which might give him pause and which the Macris could press if they chose. Both Macri and Rodríguez Larreta entered electoral politics at a time when City Hall was headed by Aníbal Ibarra (who ran an inept administration even if not directly responsible for the Cromañón nightclub blaze leading to his 2006 ouster). Ibarra rose to the top because the Radical half of the Alliance coalition reaching the presidency with Fernando de la Rúa in 1999 felt obliged to compensate their Frepaso partners with City Hall – this could be seen as an argument against compensating for a PRO presidential nomination within Juntos por el Cambio by clearing the mayoral path to their Radical allies in the person of Lousteau.

Now that the mayoral nomination has been decided nominally at least via opinion polls, will the same modus operandi be applied to the presidential candidacy? But there is no unanimity there (opinion polls can equally be found showing Patricia Bullrich way in front and Rodríguez Larreta a few points ahead although always leading in pivotal Buenos Aires Province) while the strategic arguments are divided between Rodríguez Larreta’s appeal to the middle ground and Bullrich’s potential to head off the drift to Milei by going with the flow herself.

Meanwhile the Frente de Todos presidential candidacy remains hopelessly adrift in the absence of both members of their 2019 ticket. Even if Cabinet Chief Agustín Rossi tossed his hat into the ring on Monday while the 2015 standard-bearer Daniel Scioli loudly proclaims his desire for a rerun and even if there is some desperate talk of chasing the anti-system vote with a total outsider (even somebody who might make Milei seem the sanest man in Christendom and a Brahmin within the political caste), three names dominate. Interior Minister Eduardo ‘Wado’ de Padro has the vice-presidential nod and is the Kirchnerite ambassador to the establishment but is a non-starter in the opinion polls. Economy Minister Sergio Massa has the best outreach to the key middle-class vote as well as good links abroad but is stymied by accelerating inflation. Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof comes closest to retaining the vote of “banned” Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner but does not want to leave his current job, not just for selfish reasons but because his move to the national stage would weaken Kirchnerism in its main stronghold of Buenos Aires Province.

Next weekend San Luis and Tucumán vote so this column will return to that old phrase of all politics being local.

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