Success in “Defeat”

What do you do when people favor your ideas but your party is shut out of government?  That’s the dilemma faced by the far right in the Netherlands.  The Party for Freedom (PVV), led by Geert Wilders, settled for second place in the national election held in March.  Forum for Democracy (FVD), a new far-right party founded by Dutch public intellectual Thierry Baudet, arrived in parliament by winning two seats.

Dutch elections do not typically draw global attention.  But after Brexit and Trump, the Netherlands was considered a bellwether for the future of populism.  There was a real chance the Dutch might make Geert Wilders their new prime minister.  In the end, however, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, led by incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte, got the most votes.  The global mainstream media and political elite were quick to call this a “defeat” for Wilders and for populism.  But is it?

The Netherlands uses a proportional-representation voting system.  This means that results are more complex to understand than a simple winner-loser dichotomy.  The Dutch ballot this year featured 28 parties, and when we consider how each of them fared, the inescapable conclusion is that opposition to Muslim mass immigration and skepticism about Dutch membership in the European Union and the euro won the election.  These are ideas that Wilders has...

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