Do you remember Sergio Massa? You know, current national deputy, presidential candidate in the 2015 elections, the man that appeared to enjoy making media appearances more than most other things in life?

That same Massa — who got an impressive 20 percent of the popular vote in a polarized election between the now President Mauricio Macri and the continuity of the political model led by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner by her appointed flag bearer, Daniel Scioli — has been out of the political limelight for quite a while now. And since there’s no explanation for this, we can only speculate about the reasons for such a drastic change of profile, especially during an election year. So let’s do exactly that.

Taking into account the current political scenario, chances are that Massa’s current low profile is a consequence of a single cause: the polarization proposed by the Macri administration as a political strategy in the run to October’s mid-term elections.

This plan, which got the Cambiemos coalition the presidential election, proposes a binary scenario where the only models for the country are: to continue with the change that Cambiemos represents — their message is even in their name (let’s change) — a bet on a better country free of populism even if that means enduring more than one economic woe in the short term. Or to go back to Kirchnerism — which those in the Macri camp claim is a political, economic and social crisis similar to the one Venezuela is going through right now.

What’s left to determine is whether Massa’s current low profile is a result of his own decision or if the successful implementation of the aforementioned strategy has pushed him off the limelight against his will. We could make a case for both possibilities.

On the one hand, he could have preferred to stay out of the game for a while, in order to not be associated to any of the extremes existing in the current political spectrum. He has precedent to choose this stance: when Massa joined forces with the FpV to oppose the government’s project to reform the income tax, Cambiemos didn’t waste a single second to move forward with the plan. The party’s verbal swords came out to remind people that he had been Cristina Kirchner’s Cabinet Chief, and associated him with their depiction of the FpV — everything that is wrong with this world — trying to take him out of the moderate image he’d been trying to adopt.

If, in contrast, he supported any of the government’s initiatives, few would be surprised if Cristina Kirchner or any of her lieutenants linked him with Macri and presented themselves as the only real alternative to the government and its policies, which they say do nothing but harm the working classes.

The FpV and the FR together at a table. The government capitalized on this image by linking Massa to the FpV. Photo via Infocielo.
The FpV and the FR together at a table. The government capitalized on this image by linking Massa to the FpV. Photo via Infocielo.

On the other hand, there’s also the possibility that the intentional polarization strategy has been effective and successfully nurtured a political scenario where there’s no room for shades of grey, pushing Massa away from the spotlight against his will. After all, both parties’ chances of winning the election lie in their ability to captivate Massa’s base.

For a couple of years now, the Argentine electoral scenario has been divided in thirds: one that votes for Macri no matter what. Another one that does the same for the FpV. And one that changes its vote depending on the political, economic and social juncture at decision time.

It’s in this part of the electorate — which some claim actually comprises more than 40 percent of the voting population — where Massa holds a good deal of support, and from which the government and the FpV have to appeal if they want to beat the other one in October. The main pollsters argued that these voters will be the ones deciding the election.

Shortly after the elections, Massa joined Macri in a trip to the World Economic Forum to show the world that the Argentine government and the opposition could work together. The scenario is quite different now. Photo via Infobae
Shortly after the elections, Massa joined Macri in a trip to the World Economic Forum to show the world that the Argentine government and the opposition could work together. The scenario is quite different now. Photo via Infobae

“This space represents about 40 percent of the electorate, and a complex electoral intelligence will be required to capitalize it in the polls. It’s not enough to appeal to the citizens’ from both extremes, but create an actual platform representing the interests of this 40 percent,” Ricardo Rouvier, from Rouvier and Associates told La Nación. The heads of González and Valladares and Aragón and Associates pronounced themselves along the same lines when also consulted by La Nación.

Involuntary or not, Massa will have to break from the reigning polarization if he wants his party to preserve the political capital that 20 percent of the electorate gave him in 2015 and become a power player in the upcoming elections. In an interview with la Nación, National Deputy and Massa’s right-hand woman, Graciela Camaño, hinted that they will opt for a more combative stance towards the government.

“They anticipated the polarization because the economy is not growing. We will talk about the people’s real problems. Money is not enough to make ends meet and people are worried about layoffs,” she said. We’ll have to see how this works out for him and the Renewal Front.