When I was in Caracas for 6D, there were just a few things everyone knew for sure: the sun rises in the east, chavismo was in big trouble, and Primero Justicia’s Julio Borges was going to be the next president of the National Assembly. With 33 of 112 deputies, Primero Justicia was the biggest party in the MUD coalition: without them, MUD didn’t even have a simple majority. Julio for A.N. chair was a tiro al suelo.

Now, less than a month later, the sun still rises in the east and chavismo is still in big trouble. That last one, though?…well, it’s funny

Displaying the kind of political fancy footwork he’s long been known for, AD’s 73-year old Secretary General, Henry Ramos Allup, has blown up the consensus that had congealed around Julio Borges’s bid for A.N. glory.

If you’re looking for a visual analogue to what Henry Ramos Allup has done to Primero Justicia in the last three weeks, I think this is the parallel to go for:

However much you want to say you loathe the guy, you can’t help but admire Henry’s chops.

How does he do it?

He did what you’d expect an astute tactical politician to do: he sized up his opponent’s weaknesses and charged at them. Hard.

If you’ve studied International Relations theory, what happened is easy enough to game out: PJ is the biggest party in the MUD caucus, so the smaller parties fear its hegemony. What Ramos has been doing is what the rulebook says you do in a case like this: organize a balancing coalition that allows smaller players to hold the rising hegemon in check.

The Opposition Caucus

Fraccion Parlamentaria MUD.001

Henry could probably afford to take Un Nuevo Tiempo for granted: the party seems to operate as the Zuliano branch of AD these days, sort of on the German CDU-CSU modelThe issue was always going to be Voluntad Popular: its 15 votes, together with AD-UNT’s 44 would take him to 59, 2 more than the magic number for a majority in the MUD Caucus.

In many ways, VP makes for an awkward ally for Henry: recruiting deputies from a young party created in explicit contrast to the ancien régime as foot soldiers for the aspirations of the oldest of the ancien régime dinosaurs is…tricky. One imagines when Gilber Caro, say, or Tamara Adrian, or even Freddy Guevara joined VP the last thing they imagined themselves doing was lining up to make Henry Ramos Allup the second most powerful political figure in Venezuela.

But Henry has been working Freddy for a long time. His support in claiming Maria Corina Machado’s scalp in Miranda 2 was instrumental in carving out an über-safe Assembly seat for Guevara. That’s the kind of favor HRA’s been doing for years…and calling back all month.

Henry has VP leverage far beyond Guevara himself. For one thing, the pique between Primero Justicia and VP’s founder, Leopoldo López, is old and bitter, and continually renewed through ongoing squabbles over things like #LaSalida. In a way, the whole reason for Voluntad Popular to exist is that there is a whole cohort of young opposition activists didn’t feel represented by PJ’s slow-track approach.

So how do you woo those who lack the patience for the slow-track? By promising them the fast track, of course. So, here’s Henry Ramos vowing to get rid of the government within six months. It’s an amazing reversal for a politician who had long affiliated himself precisely with the moderate camp inside MUD.

But maybe not so amazing. Turning on a dime is what really skilled tactical politicians are good at. It’s the whole reason for them to exist.

What’s shocking is the degree to which Julio and PJ appear to have been caught off-guard by Ramos Allup’s moce. They kept trying to reach a “consensus agreement” to make Julio A.N. chairman by consensus while Ramos Allup quietly went about the business of eating their lunch. Now they’re backed into a corner, negotiating the rules for MUD’s caucus (fracción parlamentaria) to hold a secret ballot on the A.N. chair: a move that seems unlikely to favor them at this point.

But easily the most baffling mistake the PJ camp has made came courtesy of Henrique Capriles. In that now infamous TalCual interview, Capriles said he didn’t want to beat a dead horse but then immediately took out his club and gave it a few more whacks, slamming #LaSalida as “one of the great national failures.”

It’s sort of like a defender making a loose pass back to his goalkeeper with an attacker marauding near by: if you do it against regular opposition, you might just get away with it, but if you do it with Lionel Messi anywhere near your 18 yard box, you’re going to pay. Capriles’s impolitic remark, once again rubbing the salidista VP’s faces in it, was all Ramos Allup needed to make a really concerted push for VP support.

What, exactly, Capriles was thinking we’ll never know. Maybe he just blundered. Maybe he has some hidden agenda against Julio. Maybe now that he’s not running for another term as Miranda Governor that PJ National Coordinator role has started to look good to him. Who knows?

What I do know is that when you give a caramelito like that to Henry Ramos Allup, you know the guy is going to pounce. And pounce he did.

Can Julio Borges still claw his way back into the A.N. chair? Of course he can. Would I bet on him? Not a chance.

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