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Celebrity economist (and representative-to-be) Javier Milei achieved a historic feat by winning a seat in the Argentine congress, surpassing all forecasts — initially pessimistic — of those who saw him as a mere niche influencer. Milei’s example is an inspiration for the entire Latin American right and embodies four lessons that must be taken into account to successfully make the difficult leap from social networks to real politics.
It is possible to build digital political capital, but they are not enough
Milei became popular on social networks during the period of expansion of libertarian communities in Latin America, which mirrored the “Libertarian Moment” in the U.S. driven by Ron Paul’s 2008 and 2012 GOP presidential primaries. Milei reached Argentina and the entire continent through Facebook and Twitter, gaining thousands of followers who fed a virtuous circle where the growing reach of his message gave him greater credibility in the traditional media.
Eventually, Milei made the leap to Argentine television, which gave him the platform to reach a much wider audience than the “red circle” that inhabits the political corners of social networks. From the TV screen, Milei gained recognition and appreciation from a large percentage of society, disproving the prophecies of those who predicted that his style would alienate viewers.
His third step was to bring the momentum of networks and TV to on-the-ground work. Milei was not content with virtual campaigning, leading him to tour the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires and reach places that were not traditional battlegrounds for the right.
In short, Milei took off backed by the nascent libertarian ecosystem of social networks, but instead of staying in his comfort zone — reciting platitudes to the members of the choir — he dared to enter television and then to walk the streets, with evident success.
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Armchair intellectualism doesn’t work. The people need to be spoken to clearly
For years, one of the most constant criticisms against Javier Milei has been that he does not present elegant and complex arguments before equally elegant and self-conscious audiences. On the contrary, Milei goes where the people are, and does so without intellectual pretensions, even disguised as an anarcho-capitalist superhero, as he did at an event in 2019.
And yes, when the occasion warrants it, he can be as technical as one would expect from an economist of his profile, but he has understood that to reach people you have to speak to them face to face, at their level, without a frock coat, without a monocle and without that ill-concealed contempt that many so-called thinkers (of all colors and ideologies) feel towards normal people. Milei does not want to show us that he knows a lot, he wants to convince… And he succeeds.
Coherence and authenticity are key
The Achilles heel of many public referents is that they give in to the temptation of diluting their message to adapt to what the polls and the conclusions of focus group exercises show. The result is that, increasingly, campaigns become the lukewarm recitation of a handful of social-democratic mantras.
The resulting consensus is a mass without form or significance; something, as Margaret Thatcher said, “that no one believes in, but no one objects to.” And against that consensus Javier Milei has stood up, clearly differentiating himself from Peronists and Macristas, Javier has a clear message in defense of life and freedom, and his perseverance in that message has become pure air for thousands of voters who are fed up with prefabricated politicians.
Yes, there is a place for the popular right in Argentina and in Latin America as a whole
For a long time, the false dogma was repeated that in Argentina one could only be politically relevant by turning to the left and that becoming a bit Peronist/Kirchnerist was the only way to confront them. To go no further than that, the technocrat Mauricio Macri, who defeated Kirchnerism in 2015 and then led a government so disastrous that it gave the country back to the K’s in 2019, bet on that policy of assimilation.
Milei has shown that a populist right that offers a clear and authentic message has a space of its own, even in countries that are deeply indoctrinated by socialism. The populist right, which for so long slept in theory, today is a reality that competes with real possibilities.
It is not only Argentina, but it is also Chile, where José Antonio Kast arrives at the primaries of the next November 21 election with ample possibilities of advancing to the second round, snatching the leadership of the right-wing from the decadent failed technocracy of Sebastián Piñera. And, of course, also in the continent there are the successful examples of Trump in the United States and Bolsonaro in Brazil, as well as Santiago Abascal with Vox in Spain.
Beyond the profiles, successes and shortcomings of Milei, Kast, Trump, Bolsonaro and Abascal, what has become indisputable is that the populist right has a voice, has ideas, and has pathways for triumph. Understanding these four lessons is indispensable for these results to be replicated in other countries of the region. We must learn and work for the future of our nations..
Gerardo Garibay Camarena, is a doctor of law, writer and political analyst with experience in the public and private sectors. His new book is "How to Play Chess Without Craps: A Guide to Reading Politics and Understanding Politicians" // Gerardo Garibay Camarena es doctor en derecho, escritor y analista político con experiencia en el sector público y privado. Su nuevo libro es “Cómo jugar al ajedrez Sin dados: Una guía para leer la política y entender a los políticos”