South America’s Trump wins election: Meet Argentina’s new MAGA-like leader

Javier Milei, Argentina’s new president, wants to “Make Argentina Great Again”.

The direct appropriation of Donald Trump’s slogan by the supporters of the 53-year-old right wing firebrand is far from the only similarity they share. Mr Milei, a former TV personality, will head his country’s executive office with the Trump-esque unfamiliar touch of a political newcomer as he pursues a conservative agenda that sounds more like it was thought up by Vivek Ramaswamy than the 45th president of the United States.

He’ll pursue massive cuts to the federal government, including the elimination of entire agencies such as the central bank, and wage the global culture war from the office of president — including a possible effort to roll back the country’s new law legalising abortion.

The Argentinian politician’s greatest similarity to Mr Trump, however, is his anger with his country’s “political caste”.

While other politicians in the US play at provoking the same anger from their base, Donald Trump remains the champion and standard-bearer for Americans who above all else bear a seething hatred for the individual leaders and elite families who have held positions of power in Washington for decades. That anger was what drew allies like Roger Stone and Steve Bannon to his side, and it’s the same anger that Mr Milei has relied upon.

It’s evident, too, in his denunciations of the “slum” he says his home country is becoming.

“Many don’t like my ways, but this election isn’t about me. It’s about you and the country we want,” he told fans at an August rally. “If we don’t change today, the only possible destiny is that we become the biggest slum in the world.”

Javier Milei, president-elect of Argentina, thanks his supporters on Sunday (Getty Images)
Javier Milei, president-elect of Argentina, thanks his supporters on Sunday (Getty Images)

At another event the same month, he added: “A different Argentina is impossible with the same old people, with the same people who have been failing for over a hundred years.”

The backdrop is different, the message is the same: The political establishment, according to Mr Trump and Mr Milei, is content to enrich itself while their respective nations fall into disrepair.

One theme could end up being shared by the two right-wing politicians as well – a rise to power during a time of economic crisis.

Mr Milei’s victory on Sunday came as Argentina is experiencing some of its highest levels of inflation in years. Poverty is spiking across the country as wages are being outpaced by rising consumer prices. Earlier this year, government officials stepped in to devalue the nation’s currency, and a second devaluation may occur by year’s end.

Though the US election is still a year away, there are stark warnings here for President Joe Biden, the incumbent likely to face a challenge from Mr Trump again in 2024. Despite passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), US price levels have remained frustratingly high in many areas — a factor that has dragged down Mr Biden’s poll numbers for months. If Mr Trump is swept into office next year, it could be the result of voters seeking an economic lifeline.

Lastly, there’s the issue of victory. Or rather, the feeling of reality setting in after a long-shot presidential bid comes to fruition.

Just like Donald Trump ended up doing throughout 2016 and 2017, Mr Milei is walking back proposals that simply have no workable path to implementation. The Associated Press reports that as he declared victory on Sunday, the controversial candidate began walking back plans to privatise Argentina’s education system and loosen gun laws.

His election victory was in many ways ripped straight from the Trump playbook. What remains to be seen now is whether Argentina’s brash young leader will chart his own course; whether he will lead his country out of economic decline and instability — or further down a road Maga-versus-all hellscape of political feuds, revenge plots, and infighting.