The candidate for people who hate politics

Yesterday’s campaign launch speech to the Primero Justicia party conference by Miranda governor Henrique Capriles Radonski was none too subtle about how he intends to position himself: as the candidate for people who hate politics.

Capriles’s spiel is calculatedly, militantly non-confrontational. His total rhetorical focus on the future implies a militant refusal to even talk about the last 13 years except in the most oblique way.

I think this is canny. People are exhausted with all these years of hyperpolarization. That big, swing-voter rich segment right in the middle of the electorate is full of people who have no interest at all in relitigating the ideological squabbles of the Chávez era for the umpteenth time.

In fact, they were already sick to death of the ideological fight in 2004. They turned off a long time ago, learned to tune out the cadenas and the headlines and the news bulletins and the boring uncle who only talks about politics years ago. They’re too busy making a living (and trying to stay alive) to really pay attention to a squabble that’s as predictable as it is irrelevant to them.

Reaching these people is obviously a major challenge. And that’s a problem, because they will almost certainly decide the election next year.

Capriles is making a carefully targeted play for their votes precisely by positioning himself outside the hyper-polarized back and forth. This is what all that “future focus” stuff is about: an implicit promise to Ni-Ni Nation that a vote for me is a vote to bury, once and for all, the fallow disputes of the Chávez era.

Another way to say this is that Capriles is running a General Election campaign in the primary season. In an American context, that’s what overwhelming front-runners typically do: if you’re fairly sure the nomination is yours, there’s no need to pander so much to the extremes and risk alienating the voters you’ll have to appeal to win the General. But, of course, it’s a risky strategy, because the fire-breathing Chávez-hating right wing is going to be hugely over-represented in the Primaries, and there’s no question who’s dishing out the red meat they crave these days.

The dynamic of a primary fight is going to create strong pressure for Capriles to come out swinging against Chávez in much stronger terms. But now that he’s told us that his campaign’s entire rationale is avoiding that stance, can he do so without shooting himself in the foot?


Update: technically, Saturday’s event was not a campaign launch – or at least they’re not calling it that.

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