Massa, as he geared up for his presidential run, knew he faced major headwinds. The Fernández government had made a dog’s breakfast of the economy, sending inflation into triple digits. Given that Massa had been minister of the economy since 2022, he knew much of the blame for this catastrophe was bound to fall on him. He calculated that if the right remained united in the 2024 elections, the candidate of the Junto por el Cambio coalition, which had governed between 2015 and 2019, would win. On the other hand, Massa reasoned, if the opposition could be split, he could win. Milei seemed the perfect vehicle for such a strategy—that is, famous enough to siphon off anti-Peronist votes, but too bizarre a character to actually win. Hugo Alconada Mon, Argentina’s most important investigative journalist, wrote that Massa created his own Frankenstein’s monster in Milei, but in the end that monster “escaped his grasp” and wound up defeating him.
In fairness, Milei’s program was and is just as wild as Massa thought it was. Milei has promised to address the collapse of the Argentine peso by scrapping the national currency and replacing it with the U.S. dollar, to abolish the central bank, privatize many industries from the national airline to the national oil company, and offer people educational vouchers as an alternative to public education. Some of this is straight out of Margaret Thatcher’s playbook—a politician Milei has said he admires, which is an odd stance given that the prime minister oversaw Britain’s military humiliation of Argentina in the Falklands-Malvinas War. But other ideas, notably dollarization, are outlandish even for a self-described anarcho-capitalist. And some, such as authorizing the unregulated buying and selling of human organs on the free market, were so bizarre that even Milei eventually had to back away from them.
In the end, none of this mattered. Milei didn’t split the right, he annexed it. In the first round of the presidential election, Milei eliminated Juntos por el Cambio’s standard bearer, Patricia Bullrich, thus setting the stage for a run-off with Massa. At this point, many Argentines began to think that, inflation notwithstanding, Massa might actually prevail over the extremist Milei. In the week before the run-off, virtually all of the polls forecasted a very tight race, though some did indeed show Milei ahead by a narrow margin (not that one would have known this from the Peronist media). For its part, the Argentine cultural class, whose leftward tilt would be considered extreme even by the standards of a humanities department of a North American university, rallied around Massa—though privately many understood that, whatever he might say on the campaign trail, he was not a left Peronist. As part of his strategy to win the anti-Milei vote on the center-right, Massa had repeatedly said that his government would include important figures from the Radical Party, the UCR, that had supported Bullrich in the first round.