Donald Trump's glowing public compliments, which surprised even Mauricio Macri himself, could have been a double-edged sword, given the host's peculiarities and the harsh criticism and blunders he generates within and outside of his country.
For this reason, the greatest success of the presidential tour was to have gathered, in addition to compliments from the head of the first world power, the support of representatives from political leadership, businesses and major political think tanks in the U.S. capital.
The "messages of support," as Macri himself called them, included a concrete achievement: the express support of the United States government for Argentina to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which implies a shift in U.S. policy. And, even if the impact is more symbolic than economic, he added in the decision to lift restrictions on Argentine lemons entering the U.S. market.
Trump’s unpredictability, which worries everyone and disconcerts most Americans minute by minute, who do not cease their permanent astonishment, this time played in Macri’s favor. "He praised me so much that in one moment I almost said, ‘Come on, loosen up a little bit.’"
What surprised many was the stake he has in the issue: “Trump needed to be friendly with the leader of a country that has been a friend of the United States, and that could fill the unoccupied leadership role in the region,” explained local political observers.
In the same vein, some members of Congress referred to Argentina as the leader of the hemisphere. But it was especially notable that Speaker Paul Ryan and Democratic opposition leader Nancy Pelosi asked Macri how they could help him succeed. Ryan then released a complimentary statement.
In this context, it was not by chance that the critical situation in Venezuela was a cornerstone of the meetings held by the president or that it was a central theme of his meeting at the White House. The demand is that Argentina lead international pressure "to restore democracy, end human rights violations and achieve the release of political prisoners in that country," as Macri explained and acknowledged; he accepted the commitment and reiterated the actions that Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra has taken in this matter.
In the midst of Trump's thunderous trumpeting in favor of protectionism, the U.S. administration's willingness to resolve the conflicting aspects of their relationship with Argentina on the commercial front prompted the president to say, "At no point did they make me feel like it was America First."
This was reflected in the meals at the White House, said officials who participated in the meetings: Trump repeatedly asked them to explain the pending issues and the Argentine position on each matter, and he ordered his officials to find a way to solve them favorably. We will have to wait to see the results, beyond the support for the OECD and the advance promise about lemons.
In addition to the meeting at the White House, the meetings in Congress, and the exultant reception of businessmen, another event of symbolic weight was added: Five of the most powerful local think tanks gathered more than 600 people at the headquarters of the Center for Strategic International Studies, many of whom had to watch Macri's exhibition from the entrance hall, where there were 350 people seated. The organizers said with surprise this was an absolutely unusual amount of people to attend such an event.
In the days leading up to the trip, government officials tried to lower expectations, not just for the simple calculation that it would look better if it worked, but because Trump's outbursts could have complicated the situation. So, considering what was expected, Macri did well. And he managed the stage to make the visit a shining success.
Both the Argentine side and the American side still have a long way to go. But Macri feels that after the government's lazy summer, the winds have begun to change. And he has already begun to get excited about the visit he will make in two weeks to China and Japan, and the visit he will receive in a month from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
He sees it as a palpable demonstration that his decision to reinsert himself into the world is bearing fruit, and he made this clear in his news conference at Blair House. So much so that he did not deprive himself of the opportunity to make some joking comments about the accusation that he was skeptical about the trip. Authentic Macri. Same as when he throws soccer references into each speech.
In an election year, this visit wins points, although the government needs to quickly turn it into tangible results. Today, he will return to the country and face the enormous challenge of making promises and good wishes come true. It's no small feat, and it will take a lot to get there from here. And above all, a lot of oxygen.