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Feb 24, 2024, 6:30am EST
North America
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Semafor Signals

CPAC shines spotlight on Javier Milei

Insights from La Nación, the Wilson Center’s Benjamin Gedan, and Hxagon’s James Bosworth

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Javier Milei
REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian
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The News

Argentine President Javier Milei is set to take the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) today, an event centered around former U.S. President Donald Trump and his supporters.

In a relatively short time, the eccentric TV commentator-turned-president is shaping up to be a popular global conservative figure whose economic policies are backed by the IMF and whose populist appeal has attracted Trump’s MAGA base.

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Several other foreign leaders have also been put on the much-anticipated speaker list, including Salvadorian President Nayib Bukele.

But Milei is playing his cards carefully in the U.S. — and his meetings with both Democrat and Republican leaders this week suggest he wants to forge strong relationships with Washington regardless of who is running the White House.

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Milei walks tightrope in building relationships with Democrats and Republicans

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La Nación

The fact that Milei hosted U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Argentina, and is set to speak at CPAC all in the same week “is a delicate and highly risky diplomatic balance,” Argentina’s La Nación newspaper wrote, given that President Joe Biden will be the focus of intense criticism at the Donald Trump-dominated event. Milei campaigned on bringing Argentina closer to the U.S., and he is keen on fostering a good relationship with the current administration. But he is also strategizing how to score more points with Trump in case he wins a second term in office, according to the paper. Despite Milei’s affinity for high-profile conservative circles, the Biden administration has shown “enormous willingness to build bridges” with Latin America’s democratic governments, as more leaders in the region turn away from Washington.

Will Milei clash with Trump’s stance on Ukraine at CPAC?

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PBS, Hxagon's James Bosworth, Wilson Center's Benjamin Gedan

Milei is lauded by Republicans for his staunch support of Israel. But he differs from the anti-Ukraine faction of the GOP, going so far as inviting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to his inauguration last year. Milei could lose momentum in Trump’s sphere if he speaks up for Ukraine at CPAC, James Bosworth, founder of the political risk assessment group Hxagon, told Semafor. “Whether Milei broaches that issue will determine whether he is viewed as a real maverick, speaking truth to power, or simply a grandstand demagogue playing to his audience,” Bosworth said. Benjamin Gedan, the director of the Wilson Center’s Latin America program, argued that Milei is only attending CPAC to boost his right-wing celebrity profile and not “pick fights about Ukraine.”

Argentines haven’t fully embraced Milei’s libertarianism despite celebrity status

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Wilson Center's Benjamin Gedan

Milei’s scheduled CPAP appearance after his well-received speech at Davos has cemented his celebrity status in the global conservative movement. Argentines are “tickled by the idea of their president being world famous,” the Wilson Center’s Benjamin Gedan told Semafor. But it’s a “fundamental misreading” to suggest that Argentines largely support Milei’s far-right libertarian movement. ”There’s almost no constituency for that,” Gedan said. Argentinia’s voters do not care about Milei exporting his libertarian ideas abroad and are only desperately hoping that his “shock therapy” economic model will pull them out of one of the country’s worst economic crises in history, Gedan added.

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