Will Europe’s right-wing populists rally behind Trump in the 2024 presidential election?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

In a controversial town hall interview on CNN, former United States president Donald Trump said if re-elected he would consider pardoning “a large portion” of the rioters who were convicted for their roles in the attack on the U.S. Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.

Trump announced last November that he would run again for the presidency in 2024. His campaign launch came just a few weeks before the Jan. 6 House Committee finalized an 845-page report which included a recommendation that the U.S. Department of Justice should investigate Trump. The former president’s role in inciting or assisting an insurrection figured prominently among the list of crimes committed.

The Capitol Hill insurrection prompted questions about the resilience of American democratic institutions.

Since 2016, right-wing populists in Europe have revered Trump as an inspiring role model and leader. However, the insurrection may have tested the resolve of his European cheerleaders.

Reactions to the Capitol Hill insurrection

In order to answer this question, my colleagues and I studied European right-wing populists’ reactions to the Jan. 6 insurrection. Our analysis focused on statements made by prominent right-wing populists shortly after the Capitol Hill riots.

We analyzed more than 400 statements from eight European countries, examining the rhetoric of politicians in Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, Hungary and Poland.

Did these individuals denounce the violence? Did they see Trump as an inciter? Or did they exonerate him?

After the insurrection, Geert Wilders, leader of the right-wing Dutch Party for Freedom, could not hide his shock. In a tweet he stated that “the outcome of democratic elections should always be respected, whether you win or lose.”

The U.K.‘s Nigel Farage, a key leader in the Brexit movement, was also critical but referred to the those who stormed the congress as “protesters.”

Santiago Abascal, leader of the right-wing Spanish political party Vox, blamed the political left, noting that it “has spent years blowing up institutions, controlling the media and supporting violence throughout the West.”

In France, the leader of far-right National Rally, Marine Le Pen, also expressed her shock and said “violence that aims to undermine the democratic process is unacceptable.”

In Italy, right-wing populist Matteo Salvini and current prime minister Giorgia Meloni denounced and condemned the episodes of violence in Washington without openly criticising Trump. Nicola Procaccini, a member of the European Parliament from the populist Fratelli d’Italia party, compared the rioters to a “series of fanatics who in some cases border on the ridiculous, starting with that one who seemed to have come out of the Village People.”

In Germany, Jörg Meuthen, former co-chair of Alternative for Germany party (AFD) described the events as “frightening, disturbing and completely out of the question,” reaffirming his party’s aversion to violence and anarchy.

Meuthen’s party colleague Gottfried Curio downplayed the insurrection as just a “demonstration that escalated.” He also expressed concern that the events in Washington could be “instrumentalized to draw egregiously false comparisons” that undermine the credibility of AFD itself.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orbán invited Hungarians to refrain from passing judgement and expressed confidence in the U.S. political system’s ability to settle disputes.

Poland’s right-wing populists did not blame Trump for the attack on congress. Similarly to Orbán, Polish President Andrzej Duda stated the events in Washington were an “internal affair,” adding that “Poland believes in the strength of the American democracy.”

Uneasy choice

Our findings revealed that European right-wing populists found themselves facing the uneasy choice of either condoning an ideological ally or condemning the subversive acts at the Capitol. Some got themselves out of this quandary by denouncing the violence against the institution but leaving Trump out of it.

Right-wing populists across Europe faced a difficult balancing act trying to maintain a correct position on the insurrection without fully rejecting Trumpism. The varying responses revealed a cost-benefit analysis on the part of each populist leader.

For power-holders such as Poland’s Duda and Hungary’s Orbán, rejecting Trump was unnecessary. For power-seekers such as Meuthen or Le Pen, the political cost of remaining silent and losing votes would have been too much to bear.

Keeping Trump at an arm’s length is more of a pragmatic, rather than ideological, deliberation. The European populists who want to be in government can’t outright condone the insurrection. That would portray them as obstructers of the democratic process. This predicament is particularly constraining for parties like France’s National Rally which is trying to soften its image after decades of racism.

Currently, European right-wing populists who are in power and zealously endorsed Trump’s reelection efforts are hedging their bets and cozying up to Ron DeSantis. Thus far, only Nigel Farage has showcased unwavering support for Trump and given him “more than a 50 per cent chance of winning.”

A New York court recently found Trump liable for sexual abuse and defamation. That could constitute the final nail in the coffin, resulting in populists abandoning or at least distancing themselves from Trump’s 2024 campaign.

By Andrea Wagner – Assistant Professor, Political Science, MacEwan University via The Conversation

Once you're here...

%d bloggers like this: