Sunday, 6 March 2016

Trump intrigues Europe's far right

Donald Trump's astonishing ascent in the US presidential race has been welcomed - and closely followed - by Europe's radical right. The Republican candidate is providing important lessons for their own campaigns.
The list of groups and individuals supporting Donald Trump's candidacy reads like the Who's Who of the international extreme right: The leader of the Dutch Freedom Party Geert Wilders, the founder of France's Front National Jean-Marie Le Pen, the head of Italy's Lega Nord Matteo Salvini, Greece's Golden Dawn party, as well as the Ku Klux Klan and the black supremacists of the Nation of Islam in the US.
While it would be unusual under normal circumstances that such a motley crew of international radicals would be backing the top contender for the Republican Party's presidential nomination, the fact that they are backing Donald Trump is not so surprising.
"Donald Trump is tapping into an idea that is also shared by many radical political movements particularly in Europe," said Matthew Goodwin, an expert on extremism at the University of Kent. "On the radical right, many share his belief that a way of life is under threat, that they need to deliver election victories for the native white group before societies become too ethnically and culturally diverse to change them."
Trump's radical statements on issues near and dear to the extreme right, such as illegal immigration - but also his delivery and tone - have hit a nerve with Europe's far right.
Anti-immigration and anti-Muslim stance
"What unites them is a strong anti-establishment position and the strong, direct language especially related to the topic of immigration," said Anders Ravik Jupskås, a researcher at Oslo University's Centre for Research on Extremism.
"For Trump it's about Mexicans, for Europe's extreme right it is immigration coming from the south," said Goodwin. Trump's anti-Muslim stance also corresponds with the "clash of civilizations" rhetoric preached by European groups such as Germany's Pegida or Britain's Defense League, noted Goodwin.
Trump, however, is not supported by all groups on the far right. More established parties, such as Norway's Progress Party, which is part of the government there, or Denmark's People's Party, the country's second largest party, have distanced themselves from Trump. According to Jupskås, they deem him simply too controversial and too far to the right.
Split support
That same split is apparent in France, where Trump has been endorsed by the founder of Front National, Jean-Marie Le Pen, but not by his daughter, current Front National leader Marine Le Pen.
According to Philippe Marlière, a scholar of French politics at University College London, the older Le Pen is "clearly more traditionally extreme right." His daughter, however, is different. While she agrees with her father on many issues, said Marlière, "she is more careful about the language and less extremist."
In addition, European far-right leaders such as Le Pen or Wilders have a more coherent or developed ideology than Trump, who lacks not just a consistent ideological, but even a cogent political platform.
Learning from Trump
Trump's status as a political outsider has only added to his appeal among Europe's far right.
"He is clearly an outsider and that is something that is appreciated by many of these parties, showing that even outsiders can be successful in what is seen at least by some of the parties as the greatest democracy on earth," said Jupskås.
For Europe's far right then, Trump is the perfect study in political campaigning in the 21st century.
"I know that there are activists in Britain that are thinking about how he is constructing arguments, how he is simplifying things he clearly knows a lot more about," said Goodwin. And of course, he added, Trump's mastery of social media has also not gone unnoticed.
More concretely, noted Goodwin, Trump's efforts at reaching out to particular groups in society, notably the working class and people who feel left behind by globalization can be easily applied to a European context as well.
Brexit as test case
With major national elections coming up in France and Germany next year, far right activists in both countries still have plenty of time to study Trump's campaign.
Britain, however, could become the earliest test case on whether Trump-style tactics will work in Europe.
"The people I know in Britain will be thinking very closely what it means for the referendum here in Britain," said Goodwin. "Is there a way that they can learn from his campaign to try and deliver a Brexit?"
Britain's referendum on whether to stay in the EU or not is scheduled for June 23.



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