Steven Erlanger, New York Times, January 13, 2021
For Europe’s populists, the electoral defeat of President Trump, who has been a symbol of success and a strong supporter, was bad enough. But his refusal to accept defeat and the violence that followed appears to have damaged the prospects of similarly minded leaders across the continent.
“What happened in the Capitol following the defeat of Donald Trump is a bad omen for the populists,” said Dominique Moïsi, a senior analyst at the Paris-based Institut Montaigne. “It says two things: If you elect them, they don’t leave power easily, and if you elect them, look at what they can do in calling for popular anger.”
The long day of rioting, violence and death as Mr. Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol has presented a clear warning to countries such as France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland about underestimating the force of populist anger and the prevalence of conspiracy theories aimed at democratic governments.
Just how threatening Europe’s populists found the events in the United States could be seen in their reaction: One by one, they distanced themselves from the rioting or fell silent.
In France, Marine Le Pen, head of the far-right National Rally, is expected to mount another significant challenge to President Emmanuel Macron in the 2022 election. She was firm in supporting Mr. Trump, praised his election and Brexit as precursors to populist success in France and echoed his insistence that the American election was rigged and fraudulent. But after the violence, which she said left her “very shocked,” Ms. Le Pen pulled back, condemning “any violent act that aims to disrupt the democratic process.”
Like Ms. Le Pen, Matteo Salvini, populist leader of the Italian anti-immigrant League party, said, “Violence is never the solution.” In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders, a prominent right-wing party leader, criticized the attack on the American legislature. With elections in his country in March, Mr. Wilders wrote on Twitter, “The outcome of democratic elections should always be respected, whether you win or lose.”
Even if populist leaders seem shaken by the events in Washington and nervous about further violence at the inauguration on Jan. 20, there remains considerable anxiety among mainstream politicians about anti-elitist, anti-government political movements in Europe, especially amid the confusion and anxiety produced by the coronavirus pandemic.
Janis A. Emmanouilidis, director of studies at the European Policy Center in Brussels, said that there was no uniform European populism. The various movements have different characteristics in different countries, and outside events are only one factor in their varying popularity, he noted.
In Poland, the government has been very pro-Trump and public television did not acknowledge his electoral defeat until Mr. Trump did himself, said Radoslaw Sikorski, a former foreign and defense minister who is now chairman of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with the United States.
“With Trump’s defeat, there was an audible sound of disappointment from the populist right in Central Europe,” Mr. Sikorski said. “For them, the world will be a lonelier place.”
Similarly, Prime Minister Victor Orban of Hungary, a firm supporter of Mr. Trump, declined to comment on the riot. “We should not interfere in what is happening in America, that is America’s business, we are rooting for them and we trust that they will manage to solve their own problems,” he told state radio.