Did Populism “Lose”?

After the Dutch election on March 15, both Dutch and international media delivered a unanimous verdict: Prime Minister Mark Rutte had “won the election.”  Rutte’s Liberal Party “won” by losing eight seats, while his coalition partner, the Labour Party, suffered an historic loss of 29 seats.  Geert Wilders, on the other hand, “lost” because his anti-immigration Freedom Party ended up with 20 seats, a gain of five from 2012.  European elites from Brussels to Berlin heaved a great sigh of relief.  The populist dominos, set in motion by Brexit and Donald Trump, had been stopped.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel even thanked the Dutch for their vote.

The media’s fixation on Geert Wilders obscures what ought to be the most striking result from the Dutch general election: The Liberal-Labour coalition government, which pursued tough fiscal policies and produced economic growth, was destroyed.  The coalition started its five-year tenure with 79 of the 150 seats in Parliament.  The two parties combined now have 41.  In any other election, this would have been called a blowout loss.  Instead of celebrating, Prime Minister Rutte would hand in his resignation.  But in 2017 the European ruling class has changed the definition of success.  “Winning” means keeping the populists out.  So Mark Rutte “won.”


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