Ernesto Calvo
Exclusive interview
"Trump is an established alt-right, Milei is an alt-right who has no one to defend or protect"
Argentine political scientist, Ernesto Calvo, is a professor at the University of Maryland. In dialogue with LPO, he talks about the elections in the United States, compares Trump with Milei and analyzes the divisions within the Hispanic community.

Ernesto Calvo studies the politics of the place where he lives and the country in which he was born with the same passion. This prestigious Argentine political scientist is a researcher and professor at the University of Maryland, where he talks exclusively with LPO. Although he considers that the race to the White House is still open, he suggests that Trumpism is more energized than the ruling party and Joe Biden's voters. Calvo points out that the American political system has moved to the right and details the enormous differences that, under a common appearance of an anti-progressive alt-right, separate Donald Trump from Javier Milei.

Author of the recent book Nosotros contra ellos: cómo trabajan las redes para confirmar nuestras creencias y rechazar las de los otros ("Us against them: How networks work to confirm our beliefs and reject those of others"), Calvo reveals what the Latin community lacks to make the electoral leap in the US and explains why the hard right won the hearts of young white people.

With the nomination of Biden and Trump, the previous presidential election will be repeated, something that has not happened for 70 years. What continuities and differences do you perceive compared to 2020?

There is a very big difference between the previous campaign and the current one: the ruling party changed sides. So the energy of votes, mobilization and political anger are on the other side. The main characteristic of the primaries and the general election is the lack of intensity on the Democratic side. In a political system in which independents have a relatively low weight, we have had 15 to 20 years of elections that are defined by the ability to mobilize one's own vote and not by the ability to attract others' votes. As it's always the case with memory, the Trump years now look better than they did in the voice of Republicans. And they look less serious than they did for the Democrats. So Trump's favoritism rose and Biden's fell.

Los jóvenes demócratas, la gran alerta para Biden 2024: "Es frustrante que no haya una alternativa"

Do you believe the polls that show Trump ahead?

We are still in the early days and today's polls do not measure what the final result will be. They are bad projectors at this point in the campaign. Just as in the sensation that exists among the population, the level of energy between Republicans and Democrats is very different.

"Trump is an established alt-right, Milei is an alt-right who has no one to defend or protect"

Can Nikki Haley's primary voters, that 20 or 25% of non-MAGA centrist Republicans, become a problem for Trump?

Unfortunately, not much at the moment. They are anti-Trump voters who want to take back the party. But they lost their turn. Nikki was not a competitive option because Trump's control of the party is superior. Those voters are not going to vote for Biden: they are simply going to pray that Biden wins. It is a vote that goes to that silent environment, where the elections are not defined. It does not change the calculation. The vote that Trump loses to that Republican who hates him is not very different from the one he had lost in the previous election. Furthermore, it is nullified by the vote of the Democratic left, who are very disenchanted with Biden.

The energy of votes, mobilization and political anger are on the Republican side and the lack of intensity is on the Democratic side. In a political system in which independents have a relatively low weight, we have had 15 to 20 years of elections that are defined by the ability to mobilize one's own vote and not to capture others' votes.

Many Democrats won't vote because of their disenchantment with Biden. Is that right?

For more than 20 or 25 years I have heard the saying "they aren't that different." It was heard with Al Gore and George Bush, with Trump and Biden in the previous election and now again. That makes a part of the Democratic vote excuse themselves and not vote. They consider that they are not two very different evils. The lesser evil is not so much better than the greater evil. This is how votes are lost for the left.

Is the US alliance wit Israel in Gaza the main reason for the discomfort with Biden?

There is a vote that is angry with the position that Biden took in Gaza, but it is already on that same margin. It doesn't influence that much. That is why Biden does not turn to try to mobilize him/her and win him/her. His actual position did not change. Trump also has no intention of targeting that moderate Republican vote, because what he would gain is less than what he gains by energizing his most intense base. They estimate two things: how much they mobilize to get their own people to vote and how much new voting should be called. And if mobilizing wins more, no one has an incentive to move and try to capture that outside voter.

If it's not because of Gaza, what is the reason for the discomfort with Biden? The economy is much better than the opposition predicted.

The same thing happened in 2012 and 2016. After the 2008 crisis, the economy was on the rise in the 2012 election. In the Republican Party, the Tea Party mobilized a racist discourse against Barack Obama and at the same time there was a huge problem in the Democratic Party. Both spaces want a slightly more to the right party. Democrats want a more centrist party. While there are progressive voices, the average voter thinks the party should move further to the right. And among Republicans, they also push even further to the right. The entire political system is pushing in the same direction, leaving Trump in a position of strength. It's called ‚Äėasymmetric polarization.' The right is much more intense and energized. It feels that its country was stolen and has extreme positions. But it also lives them more intensely than the Democrats. Democrats feel that the country is not doing well at all, on policies where the average voter thinks the party should go further to the right.

Ansioso por aumentar la recaudación, Trump pone a su nuera Lara al frente del Partido Republicano

With this shift of the system to the right, is the conversion of the Republican Party into a MAGA force more of a movement from the bases than a co-optation from above?

Yes. It is a movement from the bases. Trumpism is a movement that defeated many traditional Republican candidates. There were more changes and replacements within the party due to internal conquests of the right than due to losses against the Democrats. There are a number of new Republican candidates who were the result of internal revolts. Thus the party moves to the right by double. On the one hand, because the moderates who are there have little political weight. And because the candidates with a lot of weight and image who rise within the party do so by defeating other moderates.

Does the Republican Party's shift to the far right predate Trump?

The movement that brings Trump to the presidency is the natural inheritance of the rise of Newt Gingrich, Republican leader in the House of Representatives in the 90s and of the Tea Party years later. They were revolts that changed the balance of the candidates' power who were within the party well to the right. With these cycles, the moderate candidates who were in the middle and had political weight were progressively eliminated. It is not only ideological polarization of voters and candidates, but the political system selects polarized candidates because it eliminates moderates in two areas: in the center of the general ideological space and in that of each party.

"Trump is an established alt-right, Milei is an alt-right who has no one to defend or protect"

Does Trump's power go beyond his figure and charisma?

Trump ended up consolidating a power in the party that is impossible to remove. Because if he were to be disabled for any reason, due to health or age problems, the heart of the party at this moment is there. The candidates who are going to be promoted to replace him are like him. Trump's control is not because of his public figure, but because he really represents what the party wants: to be turned to the right.

Trump ended up consolidating a power in the party that is impossible to remove. Because if he were to be disabled for any reason, due to health or age problems, the heart of the praty at this moment is there. The candidates who are going to be promoted to replace him are like him.

In this campaign, which political flag best connects with that shift to the right: The anti-woke cultural battle, the anti-immigrant discourse, or other?

Everything was more intense when the party could have a more integrated package of cultural struggle. It is interesting that evangelicals have been growing in internal weight within the party, but they lost space in the population as voters. Evangelicals had about 25% or 27% of the population's vote and now they only represent about 15%. It is an increasingly minority group, but with increasingly more political weight within the party. This means that many of the flags of the cultural struggle that Milei takes up, which were super important in the rise of Trumpism and the Tea Party at the time, are now a little weakened in the United States..

In which sense is this cultural struggle on the right weakened?

The very anti-LGTBQ+ discourse of Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Texas does not resonate well at the national level. The abortion issue works against them. They are areas in which the party wants to speak internally, but which has moved far away from the voter. Right now, that makes immigration one of the areas in which the party is really unified and enthusiastic: the border. But many of the issues of the cultural struggle, such as gender identity and abortion, which were hard issues that unified the party, now do not. Yes, the economy, the anti-democratic identity and immigration do.

Su familia huyó de las FARC y ella quiere ser la primera colombiana electa en los suburbios de Miami

How do Latino voters get along with this general shift to the right that takes up the flag of the immigration crisis?

The two ruptures that we see in the alt-right around the world are seen here as well. Young Latino men have a higher preference rate for Trump than the older population. Certain populations had Republican affinity for a long time, such as the Cuban community. And now the crisis in Venezuela makes Venezuelans fulfill the role that the Cuban community previously had in the United States. But there is a division within the Latin community between the integrated part and the one that is accused in the same terms that happen in Chile, Argentina, and Colombia. Some Venezuelans also become synonymous with a security crisis.

Trump already cites an alleged wave of crimes by undocumented immigrants, starting with the murder of a Venezuelan.

Several of the most notorious cases publicized by Trump and the hardline Republican wing include undocumented Venezuelan immigrants. This produces a division in the community between the ins and outs, those who have papers, are legal and have a family that is composed that way - because a large part of the immigrant families have one part and other part - and the families in which there are documented migrants and undocumented migrants, which is the most common, and there the positions are more depoliticized.

Is there a gender difference in the Latino vote?

Young immigrant women are more progressive than average, and young immigrant men with documents and first generation in particular, are more Trumpist than larger populations. That reduced the Democratic advantage in the Latino vote, which was in the order of two-thirds. Now it has dropped to 55% or 57% of the Latino vote. We will continue to see a small advantage in favor of the Democrats, but in these last 25 years it has been attenuated compared to what it had been historically.

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"Trump is an established alt-right, Milei is an alt-right who has no one to defend or protect"

What is missing for the 62 million Latinos who live in the United States to become the deciding vote that has been talked about for many years?

What defines the power of a group of voters is not so much their electoral preferences, but rather their ability to mobilize. The biggest difference between the African-American and Latino votes in the United States is that the African vote is organized and mobilized both within the party and in the national vote. The Latino vote is not. The African-American vote was decisive for Biden to win the primary in 2020. The Latino vote never defined a primary in the Democratic Party and, although it is pro-Democratic, because the Republican Party was very aggressive against Latinos, it is also true that the community did not feel that it had to mobilize internally. So it fails to carry weight, remaining an observer of American politics, rather than an active participant. It has representation and is considered important due to its size, which is why all parties mention that they have Latinos, but not because of their mobilization weight. It was never able to show muscle to be a pivot in the Democratic elections or to win important elections.

Young immigrant women are more progressive than average, and young immigrant men with documents and first generation in particular, are more Trumpists than larger populations. That reduced the Democratic advantage in the Latino vote, which was in the order of two-thirds. Now it has dropped to 55% or 57% of the Latino vote.

What importance do you give to social networks and the global connection of the national right in the global rise of the alt-right?

It is difficult to know how much of that is digital networks. The most important difference that there was after 2015 is the explicit decision of the right to try to cultivate a young vote. We had not seen it since the interwar period with the rise of fascist and Nazi youth. After the Second World War, that had been very flat and was rare. The post-war right is of top hats, of bankers, of moderate and institutional votes.

What has changed during the last decade to make being on the right seductive for young people?

There was a very large investment in young libertarians by foundations, a cultural integration of mobilized young people, the use informal communication in the media. And not simply as a strategy of proposing extreme right-wing speeches, but also to cultivate a voter that the right had neglected. Fox News used the joke that if you are young and on the right, you have no heart, and if you are old on the left, you have no brain. But a right-wing movement appeared that aims for young people to have a right-wing heart, a little evil and anti-rights. The old right organized from power and towards power. This new one is trying to grow electorally. In my opinion, those are super dangerous moves.

Why is this right-wing youth movement so dangerous?

The closest to this kind of movements are those of fascism at the beginning of the 20th century. An anti-right movement electorate was built that was super destructive. Regardless of whether there are wars or not, it produced enormous human rights costs, even before any nationalist war. The growth of alt-rights represents that, an enormous cost for social rights, regardless of whether it later has an expression on international conflicts or not.

"Milei tiene que aprender de sus errores porque si fracasa le van a echar la culpa a Trump"

What antidote do you recommend to combat this alt-right, because Biden's speech that democracy is in danger is not very seductive?

Exactly. Many of the moderate, democratic and progressive governments in the world have transformed themselves into what was the old conservatism. They speak from power to power, if they have it. If not, they only complain about the abuses. There is little militant energy in guiding young people. That is why we see the gender fracture and the pro-rights mobilization, both in Argentina in this last election and in the United States. If there really is a movement that fights for social rights, it is that of young women. There is no protest struggle that allows the mobilization of young men on the left. The right does have it, it is anti-rights, but it has it because it has an anti-gender discourse where men in the United States consider themselves harmed by this expansion of women's and LGBTQ+ rights. There is no response from the center or the left. I hope there is, but young, white, male voters in the US feel that they can be kings again, when we were king. And that's what the alt-right captured.

How is the social composition of the vote for Trump and Milei different?

It's a very different composition. Trump sees that there is a possibility of capturing the male, middle-aged blue collar vote, linked to production where unions are but without being unionized. Rural and peri-rural areas with blue collar workers are where the Trump vote is energized. The same vote in Argentina has a low labor and agro-export burden. And Milei has no chance of capturing the Peronist vote, which would be the equivalent of the blue collar of the United States. This means that Milei has no reason to have a reality check regarding its economic policy. Milei may be an ideologue of the crudest and least sensible economism, because he does not really have a constituted vote. The Milei voter has much less penetration in the labor market and is less union organized than the Trump equivalent.

Milei may be an ideologue of the crudest and least sensible economism, because he does not really have a constituted vote. The Milei voter has much less penetration in the labor market and is less union organized than the Trump equivalent.

Is Milei's speech and leadership in the air?

In the State of the Union address, the president goes around and speaks to each of the social groups that represent the spirit of the United States. That does not exist on Milei's side. There is no equivalent constitution. Milei speaks to an ideal 19th century Argentine voter, not a real voter. Because there is nothing about the real economy, he does not mention what people do. He speaks to textbook neoclassical economists who are in his imagination, not even real economists. It is an orthodoxy of poor economic training without a social base that is supporting it. Instead he put a 19th century voter in a 19th century economy.

Does Trump have much more essence than Milei?

Trump has two things: a party behind him that does have all those ties, beyond the fact that he speaks MAGA language. And on the other hand, he has a real economy behind him that protects these actors. For Republican farmers who don't have competitive advantages, he subsidizes them. For the metal and coal industry that do not have competitive advantages, he protects them from external competition. Trump is an alt-right, but he is an established alt-right. Milei is an unconstituted alt-right who has no one to defend or protect. His links are with a virtual economy, dominated by financial capital and without voters who accompany him. The voter who accompanies him is the young man who has had his crown taken away based on gender and LGBTQ+ rights. It's an anti-gender movement without real voters. You see that all the time in Milei's tweets. His account is a battle. He produces messages about abstract economics and the chainsaw.

Trump contradice a los republicanos y avanza en un pacto con TikTok para rechazar la prohibición

How do you explain Trump's position in defense of TikTok?

In my opinion, that of Mark Zuckerberg sounds like an excuse. While it is true that for Republicans Zuckerberg is too progressive, unlike Elon Musk, who has shown his strategic alignment with Trump, I think that Trump's position is out of concern that launching against TikTok implies personal, political and economic and lobby costs.

How do you imagine a second Trump presidency, chaotic, revanchist or subject to an economy and power that leaves no room for drastic changes?

It's impossible to say. Trump represents a speech from the economic elite towards the classless of the economic elite. But there are two options. In his first presidency, the chaos meant that, although he had control of Congress, he did not pass any important legislation. It was a political mistake from which we all benefited. If he wins, he could now develop a presidency of accommodation, because he already has undisputed control of the Party. His adaptation to what exists would allow him to lower the clothing of the alt-right a little and, like a kind of Perón, snub the immature of the alt-right and move in an economically friendly and more institutional direction.

I see a range from a new moderation and institutionalism to a major autocratization of the US political system. It is impossible for me to define what direction Trump would take if he won. He is not giving any indication of an autocratic turn, because it would be electorally costly.

And what would the option of a disruptive Trump be?

A Trump who decides that the time has come to transform presidentialism into something much more powerful, diminish the influence of other political actors, limit the levels of sub-national democracy more than before and restrict the powers of the State.

Do you perceive signs of a possible moderate Trump, or an autocrat?

I see a range from a new moderation and institutionalism to a major autocratization of the US political system. He is not giving any indication of an autocratic turn, because it would be electorally costly. He's keeping a remarkable super low profile. The number of public appearances is far below those of four years ago and eight years ago. Having full control of the Party, he lowered the level of war a little instead of raising it. That may portend that what he is thinking is just that. But it may also be that he launches himself against New York, the opposition and the Democrats. Both sides have been seen in Trump. I wouldn't say there is an equal Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. 90% of the time he is Mr. Hyde, but it is very difficult to know how he will define a second presidency if he wins.

Translation: Bibiana Ruiz.

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