BRUSSELS – For European populists, the electoral defeat of President Trump, who was a symbol of success and a strong supporter, was bad enough. But his refusal to accept defeat and the ensuing violence seem to have damaged the prospects of leaders with similar thinking across the continent.
“What happened in the Capitol after the defeat of Donald Trump is a bad omen for the populists,” said Dominique Moisi, a senior analyst at the Montaigne Institute in Paris. “He says two things: If you elect them, they do not leave power easily, and if you elect them, see what they can do, calling for popular anger.”
The long day of riots, violence and deaths as Mr Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol gave a clear warning to countries such as France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland to underestimate the power of populist anger and the spread of conspiracy theories aimed at in democratic governments.
Heather Grabe, director of the Open Society Institute for European Policy in Brussels, said the unrest showed how the populist game book was based on “we are against them and lead to violence”.
“But it is very important to show where populism leads and how it plays with fire,” she added. “When you have aroused your supporters with political arguments for us against them, they are not adversaries, but enemies with whom we must fight by all means, and this both leads to violence and makes the relinquishment of power impossible.”
How dangerously European populists found events in the United States can be seen in their reaction: One by one, they distanced themselves from the riots or fell silent.
In France, Marin Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally, is expected to send another significant challenge to President Emmanuel Macron in the 2022 election. She strongly supported Mr Trump, praised his election and Brexit as precursors to populist success in France. reiterated his insistence that the US election was rigged and fraudulent. But after the violence, which she said left her “very shocked”, Ms Le Pen withdrew, condemning “any act of violence aimed at disrupting the democratic process”.
Like Ms. Le Pen, Matteo Salvini, the populist leader of the Italian Anti-Immigrant League, said: “Violence is never the solution.” In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders, a prominent right-wing party leader, criticized the attack on the US legislature. With his country’s election in March, Mr Wilders wrote on Twitter, “The outcome of a democratic election must always be respected, whether you win or lose.”
Thierry Bode, another high-ranking Dutch populist, joined Mr Trump and the anti-vaccination movement and has in the past questioned the independence of the judiciary and the “fake parliament”.
But already in difficulty due to reported anti-Semitic remarks and splits in his party, the Forum for Democracy, Mr Bode also had nothing to say so far.
Still, Mr. Wilders’ Forum for Democracy and Freedom Party are likely to get about 20 percent of the vote in the Dutch election, said Rem Korteweg, an analyst at the Klingendal Institute in the Netherlands.
Even if populist leaders seem shaken by the events in Washington and annoyed by further violence in office on January 20, major politicians remain deeply concerned about anti-elite, anti-government political movements in Europe, especially amid the confusion and anxiety caused by the coronavirus pandemic. .
Waste from the Capitol Revolt
Yiannis A. Emanuilidis, director of research at the Center for European Policy in Brussels, said there was no single European populism. Different movements have different characteristics in different countries and external events are just one factor in their different popularity, he noted.
“Now the most pressing issue is Covid-19, but it is not at all clear how politics will develop after the pandemic,” he said. “But,” he added, “the fear of the worst helps to avoid the worst.”
“The astonishing polarization of society” and the violence in Washington “create many deterrents in other societies,” Mr Emanuilidis said. “We see where it leads, we want to avoid it, but we know that we could get to the point where things can escalate.”
If tank economies and populists gain power in France or Italy, he said, “God forbid, when Europe faces the next crisis.” This concern – in view of the 2022 elections – seems to be partly the reason why Chancellor Angela Merkel has been so attentive to France and to Mr Macron’s demands.
In Poland, the government was very pro-Trump and public television did not acknowledge his electoral defeat until Mr Trump made himself, said Radoslaw Sikorski, a former foreign and defense minister who now chairs the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with United States.
“With Trump’s defeat, there was a sound of disappointment from the populist right in Central Europe,” Sikorski said. “For them, the world will be a lonelier place.”
Polish President Andrzej Duda, who met with Mr. Trump in Washington in June, simply called the Capitol uprising an internal matter. “Poland believes in the power of American democracy,” he added.
Similarly, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a staunch supporter of Mr Trump, declined to comment on the uprising. “We should not interfere in what is happening in America, this is America’s business, we are rooting for them and we believe that they will be able to solve their own problems,” he told state radio.
Mr Sikorski, a former Polish minister, is a political opponent of the current government in his country. He said Europe needed to “wake up to the dangers of far-right violence” and conspiracy theories. “There is much more extreme right-wing violence than jihadist violence,” he said. “We can’t assume that this kind of madness will disappear because they have their own facts. We must take off our gloves – liberal democracy must be defended. “
Enrico Letta, the former prime minister of Italy and now dean of the Paris School of International Relations at Science Po, said Mr Trump had “trusted the destructive attitudes and approaches of populist leaders in Europe, so his removal is a very important big problem for them. “Then came the riot,” he said, “which I think changed the map completely.”
Now, like Mrs Le Pen, Italian populist leaders feel “obliged to sever ties with some form of extremism,” Mr Leta said. “They have lost this ability to maintain this ambiguity about their connections with extremists on the periphery,” he added.
He said Mr Trump’s defeat and his tumultuous responses were significant blows to European populism. Only the coronavirus crash, he added, was “revenge for competence and the scientific method” against obscurantism and the anti-elitism of populism, noting that the Brexit problem was also a blow.
“We are even beginning to think that Brexit is something positive for the rest of Europe that allows a re-launch,” Mr Letta said. “No one has followed Britain and now Trump is collapsing.”
But Mr Moïsi, an analyst at the Institut Montaigne, made a darker note. After writing about the emotions of geopolitics, he sees a dangerous analogy in what happened at the Capitol, noting that it could become a heroic event among many of Mr. Trump’s supporters.
The riots remind him, he said, of Adolf Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch and the early Nazi party in Munich in 1923.
This effort to overthrow the Bavarian government also had elements of farce and was widely ridiculed, but it became “the fundamental myth of the Nazi regime,” Mr Moisi said. Hitler spent his prison term after the violence marked “Mein Kampf.”
Mr Moïsi quoted the death of Ashli Babbitt, a military veteran shot dead by a Capitol police officer. “If things go wrong in America,” he said, “this woman may be the first martyr.”