Monday, June 17, 2024

Why the far-right surge in European elections could be an omen for Trump | CNN Politics

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Former President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Las Vegas, Nevada, on June 9.



CNN
 — 

In June 2016, Britain voted to leave the European Union in a populist revolt that foreshadowed Donald Trump’s shock outsider election win a few months later.

Now, in June 2024, far-right candidates, many of whom share Trump’s populist nationalism, hostility to immigrants, searing economic message, and disdain for governing elites and globalist institutions, just won sweeping gains in EU elections.

Is political lightning about to strike twice?

US voters don’t take direction from foreigners, and American presidential elections, which play out state by state, are far different from those for the European Union. Plus, Trump’s win eight years ago had more to do with the deficiencies of Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign than Brexit. But President Joe Biden should be concerned. The latest campaign in Europe successfully road-tested a message that mixes a potent political cocktail — public anger over what is perceived to be out-of-control migration, the pain of voters facing high prices and the cost to individuals of fighting climate change. Trump is hitting these themes hard in battleground states that will decide the White House race.

Another lesson of the European elections is that in an age of inflation, incumbents are vulnerable to a disgruntled electorate. When Biden arrives at the G7 summit in Italy this week, he’ll join a quartet of four other politically diminished Western leaders. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz are smarting from their rebuke in European elections that rewarded far-right parties that echo the continent’s dark past. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s low approval ratings mean he might not even lead his Liberal Party into elections due by the end of next year. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to be wiped out in next month’s general election after 14 years of Conservative rule. Ironically, the most secure European leader at the G7 will be Giorgia Meloni, the right-wing prime minister of Italy, a country known for dispensing with leaders at a hectic rate. Meloni’s party won big over the weekend, making her one of the most powerful leaders on the other side of the Atlantic.

A saving grace for Biden might be that the US election is not a traditional face-off between an insurgent outsider and an unpopular sitting president. Trump is, in many ways, an incumbent himself who boasts a controversial White House legacy and carries heavy political baggage as a twice-impeached and convicted former president. And populist nationalism isn’t on the rise everywhere. Biden led a surprisingly successful midterm election campaign against “Make America Great Again” influences in the GOP in 2022. An expected return to power by the Labour Party in Britain next month would buck the trend of ascendant right-wing parties. And Poland just rejected eight years of populist rule that drew inspiration from Trump.

Macron reacted to the surge of the far-right National Rally party of Marine Le Pen with a bold gambit that stunned commentators watching his post-election speech in TV studios. He dissolved Parliament and called new elections. The National Rally is an evolution of the ultra-right-wing anti-immigrant National Front, which has never managed to navigate the country’s two-round electoral system to win the presidency. Le Pen has now moderated some policies to appeal to a broader group of voters.

Macron, who heads a centrist party that was routed in the European elections, may be betting that the higher turnout in legislative elections could reverse the trend. A post-election anti-far-right coalition could also emerge in Parliament. But if the National Rally wins the two-part elections that culminate weeks before the Paris Olympics, Macron may be forced to appoint 28-year-old far-right star Jordan Bardella as prime minister in an awkward cohabitation deal. Cynics wonder whether Macron secretly hopes that a far-right government could be so disastrous that it could tarnish Le Pen’s hopes of succeeding him in 2027.

Macron told voters his gamble was based on trust “in the capacity of the French people to make the most just choice for themselves and for future generations.” He’s implicitly beseeching voters despondent about the economy to save the foundational values of their country, billing his announcement as an act of “trust in our democracy.” That’s rather similar to the warning that American democracy is in deep peril and needs to be saved by voters, which Biden spelled out at Macron’s side last week during the 80th anniversary commemorations of the D-Day Normandy landings.

That’s why the White House will be watching French election results on July 7 even more closely than Sunday’s EU contests.

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