Managing expectations in politics, especially in campaigning, is everything. On Oct. 22 in Argentina, a large part of society, including the media and extremely lost pollsters, anticipated a comfortable victory for the libertarian candidate Javier Milei in the first round. The most adventurous, even, spoke of a historic victory that would establish the La Libertad Avanza candidate as president of Argentina. As everyone knows, it didn't happen.
In reality, something much more logical happened. The establishment candidate, even though he is the current economy minister of one of the worst economic administrations in the history of not only Argentina but of Latin America, managed to engage in politics, moderate his speech relatively and mobilize his base that did not turn out in the primaries (PASO). He did the latter through a very successful fear campaign which included, for example, posters with rising public transport fare prices thanks to a hypothetical victory for the opponents.
In short, Peronism did what it does best: play politics: unscrupulous, dirty and with a lot of false narratives. One must admit, they are much better at playing the game than their rivals.
This was one of the great sins of Javier Milei's campaign, which the libertarian candidate himself admitted in an interview with La Nación: they were overconfident.
Not only did they underestimate their rival, who is a survivalist political animal by nature, led by an experienced, chameleon-like politician in Sergio Massa, but they overestimated themselves. A mix of these two ingredients can create a disastrous formula.
Fortunately for Milei and LLA, the choice wasn't terrible. Certainly, compared to the PASO, it is bad. The political map in Argentina today is more blue than purple, and Massa rose like foam, taking seven points from the libertarian candidate. But it's all a matter of expectations.
If the expectation was that Milei was going to win in the first round, obviously second place several points behind the Peronist candidate looks bad. However, in the actual story, has not been taken into account that LLA is practically the second political force in Argentina, side by side with Together for Change and Peronism itself. They are in the fight for the presidency with serious statistical chances of coming back. They have just added more than 30 seats in Congress that will make it decisive in the negotiations.
That is why managing expectations is so important in politics. If the Milei campaign, instead of selling an improbable victory in the first round, had recognized its high electoral base for this cycle and explained that the objective was to go to the second round, the mood today would have been different.
Furthermore, at first glance, it is quite notable that Milei has the numbers to turn the election around, even without the votes of the most social democratic and progressive faction of Together for Change.
The problem, of course, is that this forces LLA to make an agreement with part of this base and, therefore, enter into a sort of contradiction that will be taken advantage of, of course, by Peronism. But that is a future problem. The immediate one, and the most important one, is that, to guarantee competitiveness, Milei needs to reach an agreement in record time with the Macri-Bullrich faction.
If that happens, always assuming that Massa will drag the radicals from Together for Change, therein lies the great unknown of the second round: Where will the votes for Juan Schiaretti from Córdoba go?
Schiaretti is difficult to define. He is a Peronist politician, certainly, but his popularity and most of his votes come from Córdoba, a region where Massa came last and Milei won comfortably. It is a region that, furthermore, generally detests Peronism. So the first round not only resulted in the unexpected scenario that Massa came out stronger, but also left open the possibility that the votes for an eliminated candidate could be decisive in the second round.
Therefore, beyond the mistakes made by Milei and his campaign in recent days, the reality is that he is still in the race and with a good chance of succeeding. These 30 days will be marathon, and an entertaining one at that.