On Monday, August 28, Sergio Massa held a meeting with Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva that lasted more than two hours. Although they talked about central issues related to the bilateral relationship between the two countries – such as financing for Argentine imports and Argentina’s entry into the BRICS – one issue came up time and time again and again in the conversation. And that has a name and a surname. "Sergio, you do what you have to do, do what is necessary, do everything in your power,” Lula is reported to have told the Unión por la Patria presidential candidate. “Whatever happens, Javier Milei cannot win the elections.”
The tone, bordering on fear, is not at all surprising coming from Lula. In an interview with the Perfil newspaper in 2021, Daniel Scioli recalled that in a meeting with Lula in Brazil, the former trade union leader told him that he was following the rise of the libertarian with concern. That was two years ago – now it would seem that Lula’s worst fears could be realised.
Massa took up the gauntlet thrown down by the Brazilian. He returned to Argentina and announced a package of economic measures that several in the government had long been calling for. The reinforcement to the nation’s pockets of a fixed sum of 60,000 pesos for workers was complemented with a series of tax relief provisions according to the different sectors (single-taxpayers, retirees, SMEs, etc.).
This is the reflection of a new idea in the final stretch of the campaign. The strategy is no longer to have the same discourse and approach for each social group, but to work on them in a differentiated way. The outreach will be boosted by Massa touring the territories. The aim echoes with what they hope will be the magic number in October: party leaders in the Massa camp maintain that "14 percent" of the 7,352,244 Argentines who voted for libertarian Javier Milei can be recovered on October 22 – voters who in 2019 bet on Frente de Todos and who could now change their position again. And if that happens, the economy minister has a chance of being competitive in a possible second round run-off.
For now, it seems to be nothing more than a declaration of hope. Especially if one looks at the reaction of provincial governors to the lump sum that is to be given to municipal workers: 14 provinces have already rejected it. Among them are four that, on paper, form the front line of Massa's candidacy (Gustavo Bordet of Entre Ríos, Raúl Jalil of Catamarca, Juan Manzur of Tucumán and Sergio Zilliotto of La Pampa), plus others that the government considered to be allies, such as Oscar Herrera of Misiones and Omar Perotti of Santa Fe. The case of the latter is even more singular: Perotti declared that in a run-off between Milei and Bullrich he would vote for the libertarian, which has further increased doubts about his character. As already reported in Noticias, days after the PASO, governors and mayors from all over the country began to contact Milei's entourage to organise the distribution of shared ballots (his for president and those of his local legislative candidates) in October. The disbanding is alarming for the ruling party.
What to do?
The big drama, both for the government and for Bullrich's campaign, is that no-one seems to have a clear idea of what approach to take in order to overcome the libertarian at the ballot-box.
One wild idea that has been floating around, and on which Massa's communications team insists a lot, is to avoid attacking him head-on and to attack him on side issues, such as the consequences of his plan for the economy. However, this idea is being resisted by the coalition itself: Presidential Spokesperson Gabriela Cerruti, in the midst of last month’s wave of looting, launched a video identifying Milei by name and surname. Massa, according to those who talk to him, exploded with fury when he saw the clip.
Another strategy is to increase the presidential hopeful’s organic presence in social networks. Recent parody videos of Massa (featuring him as a central character in the Jurassic Park films, or portraying him as the inventor of the wheel) are on the rise, while among Peronist influencers the idea of "bananising" the libertarian's campaign, on insisting that with him in power the country would become a "banana republic," has taken hold.
At the political level, on the other hand, the strategy is less clear. Alberto Fernández has been quietly picking up the phone to insist that governors get behind Massa’s campaign. And also to get them to pay the fixed sum: "It's not a plan for small change," he reportedly said. Meanwhile, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner remains silent, an idea that some campaign leaders see as positive. "If she speaks now, we're toast," they say, because of the bad image that much of the country has of her.
It seems that Lula's fears are on the way to being confirmed.