Javier Milei Against the Dead Consensus
What does an Argentinian politician with a background in the Austrian school of economics have in common with America’s former prince of primetime?
Tucker Carlson raised eyebrows in the early summer of 2022 when Fox News, the network that employed him at the time, announced their top talent would be giving an address in Iowa, a peaceful land of endless cornfields that slash and burn the presidential aspirations of at least one candidate every cycle. Promotional materials for the televised keynote at the Family Leadership Summit included campaign-button-like graphics.
The often speculated but unserious prospect of a Carlson bid for the presidency was as real as it has ever been. It had others asking: “What would it be like if Tucker Carlson actually ran for president?”
Some had already asked themselves the question, and sought answers in Eric Zemmour's presidential campaign in France. But what transpired over the weekend in Argentina might provide some insight, too.
On Monday morning, with about 90 percent of votes counted in Argentina’s primary elections, economist Javier Milei of the Liberty Advances coalition was leading with 30.5 percent of the vote. He led the center-right Together for Change coalition by 2.5 points and the ruling Peronist coalition by 3.5 points.
But what does an Argentinian politician with a background in the Austrian school of economics have in common with America’s former prince of primetime?
Before Milei became a member of Argentina’s House, called the Chamber of Deputies, in 2021, he was a regular guest on Argentine cable news and had his own radio show. Unlike most professors, he made for good television and radio—a firebrand with a rock ‘n’ roll demeanor, formed during his time as a rock musician.
Carlson and Milei both achieved stardom by lobbing bombs—insults and insinuations—at the political establishment and ruling class without reservation. Why shouldn't they? The current crop of elites in America and Argentina are destroying their respective countries. But Carlson and Milei’s extensive media portfolio in vociferous opposition to the ruling class turned both men into political enigmas.
The left and right media and political establishments struggle to reduce Carlson’s politics to a single term or phrase. The establishment left has described Carlson as a radical, a right-wing extremist, a crypto-fascist, a libertarian, and a conspiracy theorist. The establishment right claims Carlson is a socialist, a Putin-stooge, and a populist.
If the left- and right-wing establishment finds it difficult to define Carlson’s politics, one can imagine the difficulty they have had pinning down Milei, who comes from a country with a different culture and different political traditions. Corporate media outlets chose a wide array of terms to express their loathing of Milei and his victory in their headlines. Reuters’s headline reported that Milei is a “radical right-wing candidate”; TIME called him a “populist”; CNN said he’s an “outsider”; the Economist’s headline read “Argentina could get its first libertarian president”; the BBC levied the worst insult they could muster: “Trump admirer.”
Admittedly, the corporate media weren’t the only ones struggling to interpret the enigma that is Milei. On social media, news of Milei’s victory sparked debate among right-wingers struggling to decipher the meaning of Milei’s victory: Was this a victory for libertarians and free-marketeers, or was it a victory for the New Right and post liberals?
“Milei’s campaign is an anti-establishment campaign,” Jose Saenz Crespo, program operations manager at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Latin American political analyst, and an Argentinian national, told The American Conservative. “In the media and in government, Milei has gone to war with the ruling class, the media, the government, big business, what he calls 'la casta' (the caste), attacking their policies and practices, and insulting them and calling them names.” Milei has called politicians “rats” and a “parasitic caste.” (Carlson said Zelensky was “rat like” in a recent episode of Tucker on Twitter; in 2003, Carlson published a book titled Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites).
At least rhetorically and aesthetically it all seems very post-liberal: the liberalism of the ruling class has failed. “If there is one theme, it is that the ruling class in Argentina has failed, and that is why the economy, government, and democracy is in bad shape,” Saenz Crespo explains. Of the three, the economy is inflicting the most pain on the average Argentinian: Inflation sits at 116 percent and poverty at around 40 percent.
Nevertheless, claims that Milei’s victory is just a win for the old “classical liberal” coalition are not without merit. Milei has advocated for seemingly libertarian policies, specifically when it comes to the economy, on the stump. He has argued for the abolition of Argentina’s Central Bank, pledged to cut taxes and government spending, proposed wide-scale privatization of state-owned enterprises, and vowed to make it easier for Argintinians to own firearms—as well as to buy and sell human organs. The self-described “anarcho-capitalist” has previously claimed the state is the "basis of all problems," that Argentina’s labor laws are a “cancer,” that climate change is a lie, and that the healthcare system is broken—those governmental departments have to go.
Channeling populist energy to advocate for this set of policies might seem contradictory at first glance to American observers. We have short memories—it wasn’t that long ago that the Tea Party emerged from grassroots momentum in opposition to the handling of the financial crisis. “Milei isn’t libertarian as Americans might understand it,” Saenz Crespo told TAC, “he is, however, what Americans would consider a classical liberal.”
Certainly, it’d be bizarre for those who hold to the American political realignment after 2015 to embrace a classical liberal. This, then, is where the cultural divide makes interpreting Milei’s rise difficult for American observers. “But to be a classical liberal in Argentina,” Saenz Crespo continued, “today means rejecting the current ruling class. Milei doesn’t say ‘Make Argentina Great Again,’ but he does talk about times when Argentina was great, when it was among the seven largest economies in the world and taking us forward to that possible greatness.”
Milei’s campaign isn’t just CATO Institute boilerplates. He is the only candidate in the race that is ardently and unapologetically pro-life. He wants to ban abortion outright. Sexual education in schools, Milei believes, is a plot to destroy the Argentinian family.
“Milei doesn’t fit nicely into the political boxes of the United States because Argentina is different,” Saenz Crespo said. “Though he advocates for policies that appear libertarian or liberal, he can still be considered post-liberal because his main point is that liberalism in Argentina is broken. Taxes are high, it’s hard to start a business, and government services don’t work as they should.”
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In other words, like Trump, Milei’s anti-government bluster should be taken seriously and not literally: it’s not necessarily that government as such doesn’t work; it's that, under Argentina’s current crop of elites, government isn’t working as it should—for the benefit of the average Argentinian family.
If the conditions plaguing America were the same as the problems plaguing Argentina, then the New Right or post liberals would likely focus on a different set of policies, potentially policies more akin to some of Milei’s less extravagant proposals. Take the example of Orban in Hungary or Bukele in El Salvador: one can appreciate what these leaders are doing to fix the problems liberalism has wrought in their respective countries without thinking their specific policies would translate directly to the United States.
Like Milei, several factions of the right would be quick to claim victory if Tucker Carlson—a man who has been prone to call himself a classical liberal or libertarian on occasion—ever became president. And whether it were Milei or Carlson, how they govern would shape the way their victory would be interpreted. What would not change, however, is the truth of what brought them to power: The dead consensus is dead.