In Argentina, Espert’s Rise in the Polls is Worrying President Macri
The rise of classical liberal economist José Luis Espert in the polls is worrying Mauricio Macri, who is in the fight of his political life to win a second term as Argentina's president
Government officials of Mauricio Macri did not mince their words when it came to criticizing the liberal economists who questioned the solidity of a weak economic program from day one. Despite problems, Cambiemos was able to make it through the first two years of its term without major challenges. They believed that Peronism was over, that Cristina Kirchner was going to serve as a sparring partner, and underestimated the constructive criticism of many figures such as Ricardo López Murphy, Javier Milei, or José Luis Espert, who one day decided to become a presidential candidate himself.
While Kirchnerism and the left used demagoguery in seeking to destabilize a non-Peronist government (the last to complete a constitutional mandate in term was in 1928), liberal economists were simply dedicated to pointing the way. With more diplomacy, as in the case of Lopez Murphy or with more vehemence, as in the case of Milei, no one can say that the criticisms were ill-intentioned. There was no electoral political speculation or competition; only the intention to remedy the repeated errors in the Argentine economy.
The total failure of “gradualism” and the lack of responses from a government that is reaching the end of its term, asking the referee for more time and seeking a bailout from the International Monetary Fund made the media dedicated to finding concrete answers to national problems such as unemployment, lack of productivity, inflation and the rise of the dollar. José Luis Espert “the teacher”, became one of the spokesmen for, as he likes to say, the ideas of “common sense”. His record speaks for itself. Even before the fall of Fernando de la Rúa, he correctly anticipated the costs of not implementing a civilized economic model. Argentina went in another direction and time proved him right.
“This is not the right path: the closed economy, the fiscal deficit, and the monetary issue,” he said in 2001, and the rest was history. That is, the history of Kirchnerism and its failure.
When Espert decided to launch his candidacy in this year’s elections, it was not easy. Having to run with an already established party (a situation that earned him the criticism of several economist friends), raise funds, and participate in the electoral discussion was complicated. But he started from the bottom and went through the complicated journey of insisting on a candidacy that had yet to register in the polls. But in the hands of new young libertarians who were emerging in recent years throughout the country, Espert began to make his case and travel throughout Argentina. He filled all the places where he went with a sub-30 audience interested in hearing a different perspective.
At first he polled between one and three percent, but Espert continued with the same script, without worrying much about the results. This week, a survey by Federico González y Asociados placed the “profe” at almost 7%; 6.9% to be exact. The interesting thing, is where these votes are coming from. Espert appears to be winning with 16 to 30 year olds, with 30.8%. In this age group, Macri has 13% and Fernández 25%.
But although the polls show Macri and Kirchner constantly changing places for first and second place, one thing is already clear: Espert’s standing in the polls is already greater than the difference between the two.
With the latest poll numbers, Macrismo changed its strategy. The liberal alternative is no longer underestimated, rather it is treated as irresponsible. If something was seen this week on social media, within the “non-Kirchner world,” there were clear accusations for the backers of Espert. Squarely blame them for the possibility that Cristina Kirchner wins the election. The strategy of fear amounts to this: “vote for Macri because if he doesn’t win, Cristina Kirchner returns.” Unfortunately all this is very similar to what Kirchnerism tried to do in 2015, appealing to the most absurd fears so that people would not vote for Cambiemos. Although the current government appealed to change as an idea, we must recognize that it ended up resembling previous administrations.
The officials of Macrismo, instead of sending their followers to be hostile with the voters of Espert, should engage in some self-criticism and ask themselves, why this humble candidacy is now ascendant. If Cambiemos feels threatened by the loss of votes at the hands of liberalism, they should propose another course in order to win back those voters. The strategy of contempt that ultimately mutates into threats and an attempt at intimidation does not seem very logical.