In a nation as famed for its beef, wine, tango and economic mismanagement, the iconoclastic libertarian Javier Milei has sent shivers down the spines of the Argentine left and center-right alike since his surprising first-place showing in last month’s primary elections.
Although he rejects the term, there is no denying Trumpian elements in the anti-establishment rage that is fueling the shocking rise of the Argentine congressman to the status of front-runner in the South American nation’s Oct. 22 presidential election.
Milei has stoked controversy and debate by calling for proposals long considered beyond the bounds of polite Argentine society: affording the citizenry the right to bear arms, ending the Argentine central bank, dollarizing the economy, and allowing the right to legally sell human organs.
A former frontman of a classic rock band with an outrageous mane of hair, he has also been waging a verbal war with fellow Argentine, Pope Francis, who he has described as someone “who preaches Communism.”
Milei has also espoused what he said are the benefits of free love and explained his penchant for threesomes numerous times on national television.
“I have a clear agenda, which goes against everything that is socialism or communism,” he said. “Everyone who is against socialism or communism is on the side I am on. This is my guiding principle, then we can have all the differences you want.”
Milei will face off against two other challengers: current Minister of Economy Sergio Massa of the left-wing Peronist party and former Minister of Security Patricia Bullrich. Massa, who is running with the blessing of former President Cristina Kirchner, is widely believed to have been selected as the most palatable and moderate of the Peronist options. Nonetheless, he faces an uphill climb to mount a credible candidacy while defending the current administration’s dismal economic performance.
Bullrich represents the center-right sensibilities of former President Mauricio Macri, under whom she served as minister, and has appeared to be moving more toward the ideological outlook of Milei in an attempt to stem her decline in the polls.
Milei has led in each of the last five major national polls, averaging 34% to Massa’s 27% and Bullrich’s 24%. The race remains fluid, but the momentum clearly rests with Milei, who has undoubtedly picked up considerable support from the Argentine center-right establishment dominated by Bullrich and Macri.
In order to win outright in the first round, a candidate must secure 45% of the vote or win 40% and beat the second-place candidate by a margin of 10%. It’s a difficult proposition in a relatively close three-way race, setting up a likely second round runoff on Nov. 12.
Nonetheless, with the Argentine economy in complete free fall, it appears that the electorate is increasingly receptive to Milei’s brash and undiluted libertarian message in an era of Kirchnerist/Peronist “incompetence.”
Argentine political commentator Marcelo Duclos told Fox News Digital that “it is not only incompetence but … a corporatist model where many people benefited from this model: be it inflation linked to an uncontrolled monetary policy to finance excessive public spending in a poor country … a model of import substitution where people buy expensive things of poor quality to defend friends and industrialists, union corporatism.”
This mix of inflation, bloated unionized public sector power, excess spending and currency devaluation has been particularly toxic to a once great economic power.
Cato Institute Latin American policy scholar Daniel Raisbeck told Fox News Digital, “Particularly egregious has been the currency’s [Argentine peso] extreme devaluation and the return of triple-digit inflation for the first time since the early 1990s. Milei is offering the right formula to tame inflation quickly: to dollarize the economy, get rid of the national currency and shut down the central bank.”
Inflation is the elephant in the room, and polls currently show both Bullrich and Milei triumphing over the left-wing Massa in a hypothetical second-round matchup.
Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., and chair of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, told Fox News Digital, “Having Massa on the ballot ensures a national referendum on Peronism and the Kirchner governments. As experts in their fields, both Milei and Bullrich will excel against the very person responsible for the latest round of destruction of Argentina’s economy.”
While the mainstream media has routinely described Milei as a populist, this description may more accurately describe the electoral trends driving his success rather than his ideology. Milei’s rise is an anomaly seen as being a purely ideological candidate who seems to delight specifically in not moderating his libertarian views.
“Milei has the rare gift of being able to illustrate that, when applied, libertarian theories benefit the ordinary man. He has also benefited from the fact that socialism and statism have left Argentina on the economic brink. On the other hand, Argentina’s enormous economic success between around 1880 and 1916 was based on following the principles of classical liberalism as expressed in the 1853 constitution,” Raisbeck said.
As Bullrich begins to move toward Milei’s ideological positions, many voters appear to be making a strategic calculation that Milei is a stronger bet to defeat Peronism than Bullrich and the traditional center-right establishment, experts say.
Raisbeck argues, “Bullrich’s problem is twofold. On the one hand, she is still a traditional, career politician, the group that voters seem eager to reject. On the other, she was a minister during Macri’s government, which also failed to tame inflation or revive the economy, so she has little credibility on the economic front.”
Yet Salazar sees both Milei and Bullrich as welcome alternatives after two decades dominated by the Kirchner brand of Peronism: “Bullrich and Milei are united in their opposition to any perpetuation of the Kirchnerist failure. Both candidates are uniquely qualified to lead their country in their own ways.”
As Argentines head to the polls in a little more than a month, Milei may be capable of doing the unthinkable: riding the tidal wave of populist economic anger to the president’s mansion, known as the Casa Rosada, amid voters’ resounding rejection of the two political factions that have governed the South American nation for generations.