Chávez has been running on “stability” for years. His oft-repeated threat that an opposition win would spell certain civil war is, in its own twisted way, an appeal to people’s fear of instability.
Sure, the stability Chávez peddles is the same kind a mafioso is peddling when he tells you “it’s a nice shop you have there, it would be a shame if anything should happen to it”. And people buy it for the same reason they’ll pay off a racketeer: the threat seems credible, and not worth messing with.
One critical task for Henrique Capriles between now and October 7th is to upend that calculus, establishing himself not just as a “safe pair of hands” but as a safer pair of hands than his opponent’s. Manage that and his election begins to look not just likely, but inevitable.
This will take some doing, but it’s far from impossible, particularly in light of Chávez’s renewed illness.
The likelihood now is that Chávez will gradually fade from view in the coming months as he fights cancer. Now that the promise of a single, uncomplicated recovery has been shattered, the core of Chávez’s stability pitch – that he will personally be there to keep the peace over the next six years – lacks credibility.
These are the lemons the race has given us: time to make some lemonade.
However long Chávez’s battle with cancer lasts, and whatever its ultimate outcome, his ability to referee disputes between chavistas will almost certainly be diminished for months to come. As that ability fades, people will more and more come to realize that a vote for Chávez is not a vote for the country to be run by a guy they love, but rather by his cronies, whom they hate, and who don’t get along with one another at all.
As Chávez ails, the factional disputes that have been bubbling away just beneath the threshold of public perception will start to burst out into the open. Chavismo’s one and only mechanism for settling such disputes – presidential fiat – will function badly, if at all, between now and October.
The Tricolors’ task, then, is to subtly, gently remind people that in voting for Chávez they’d be voting not for the father figure so many still respect but rather for his no good, squabbling, criminal children.
“Vote Chávez , get Cabello” needs to be the message. Or, rather, vote Chávez get Cabello fighting with Jaua fighting with Maduro fighting with Rangel Silva fighting with the Cubans.
People intuit that a government of chavista factions at constant war with each other would be nasty, brutish and short. Faced with that prospect, Capriles needs to establish himself as the stability candidate. And that’s a process, not an event.
His job now is to make that case not through some grandiloquent declarations but by subtly underlining the everyday chaos chavismo leaves in its wake and pointing out the real “Mesa de Alacranes” brewing on the other side. He’ll have to do this carefully, gingerly, letting the evidence before people’s eyes speak largely by itself. Much of this is about “don’t think of an elephant”ing the message – something Capriles is great at. (For one thing, every time Capriles wishes Chávez a speedy recovery, he subtly brings back to mind just how sick he is.)
Capriles-as-guarantor-of-stability is a message for multiple constituencies: not just the electorate at large, but portions of the chavista political, judicial and military elites that stand to lose more than almost anyone from open factional warfare within chavismo as Chávez fades from view.
Capriles will be in a position to issue guarantees to chavistas worried about losing the factional wars that no one in the government could match for credibility. And in the armed forces more than anywhere else, the prospect of avoiding open conflict is an overwhelmingly powerful incentive, given the alternatives.
For Capriles, stealing the stability mantle is plausible, because the fact is that the country really is ungovernable in the hands of chavismo-sin-Chávez.
Chavistas know that, opposition folks know that, the army knows that, everybody knows that.
And given that Chávez is unlikely to be well enough to make chavismo-con-Chávez a realistic prospect, Capriles sure starts to look like the only hope for stability in the medium term. Slowly, gradually as Chávez’s weakens visibly right in the public eye, Capriles can leverage that fact to make the transition from “plausible” to “inevitable.”
And once that dynamic takes hold in earnest, the desbandada over the talanquera is going to be hard to contain.