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European populists loved Trump, now they’re dropping him hard

ROME – How quickly they forget. At the height of the rebound in Trump’s pre-pandemic presidency, Georgia Meloni, the most prominent Italian politician on the far right and leader of the Brotherhood of Italy party, cited every chance she could. , in the hope that his star power among populists would give him some credibility. But since her apparent loss to Joe Biden, Meloni has seemingly forgotten her man in Washington. “I share ideas and values ​​with Trump and over the past few years I have worked to strengthen ties,” she told reporters this week. “But I’m nobody’s cheerleader.

Meloni’s feelings were echoed by some of Trump’s most ardent supporters. British Prime Minister Boris Johhson – considered by some to be Europe’s Trump – is already snuggling up to Biden on climate change, an issue hardly anyone agreed with Trump on. Many lawmakers from the German Alternative for Germany party, which backs Trump, also showed a reluctant willingness to accept Biden’s victory after initially repeating Trump’s election fraud allegations.

And Hungarian Victor Orban was one of the first European leaders to congratulate Biden on his victory, having been the only European leader to openly approve of Trump’s re-election, calling a second term his “Plan A.” It hardly helps that Biden spared little love for Orban, referring to him as a Trump henchman on the campaign trail this fall. “You see what has happened in everything from Belarus to Poland to Hungary, and the rise of totalitarian regimes around the world,” Biden said. “This president kisses all the thugs in the world.”

Donald Tusk, former President of the European Council who now heads Europe’s largest moderate conservative party called the European People’s Party, was quick to assert that the end of Trump would be the end of populism. “Trump’s defeat may be the beginning of the end of the triumph of far-right populism also in Europe,” he wrote after Biden’s call for victory. But it’s much more complicated than that, analysts say.

Rosa Balfour, the European director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, predicts that European populists who have ridden the Trump and Brexit wave will be fine without him. “We saw Trump use populism, but it was more about undermining the rule of law than populism itself,” she told the Daily Beast, noting that while the leaders of Poland and Hungary used the same “systematic attack on democracy and rule.” of the law ”like Trump, they don’t really need him to maintain it.

“As for Hungary and Poland, they will adjust to Biden’s presidency, and overall they know that many strategic issues like security are best served by Biden,” she said. . “Orban is a very intelligent politician, he is very pragmatic, he managed to go very far with very little control, that will not change.

As in the United States, Balfour says it will be voters, not Trump’s absence, who will ultimately oust leaders like Orban and Polish President Andrzej Duda, including the victory of the Polish Party for Law and Justice in the recent elections. has been largely attributed to Duda’s visit to the White House with Trump, which has so far failed to acknowledge Biden’s victory. “It won’t change anything,” she said. “Trump will not be what could change Poland and Hungary, it will be the Hungarians and Poles.”

Pawel Zerka, policy researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations, says the era without Trump will have an impact and that the sooner Europe’s populist leaders find a new hero, the better for them. “The US 2020 election is also important to them because it deprives them of an ally or at least a useful point of reference on the global political map; one who, more than anyone, has helped shift the range of what is or is not acceptable in public discourse, ”he wrote in a post-election essay. “Trump’s legacy in this area may well survive his presidency – and he will likely continue to cause trouble wherever he is.”

It’s the second-tier leaders who have only bypassed the corridors of power like Italy’s Meloni and former leader Matteo Salvini who have won the most under Trump’s presidency because their strength lies in a set of circumstances they can exploit, from identity and inequality to fear. to be left behind. “They don’t have power, but they have been empowered,” Balfour says. “He really emboldened them, he helped them see that if you create chaos, even if you take risks and create mayhem, you undermine the ruling coalition. These learned techniques don’t need Trump at the helm to work.

Yet the very fact that Trump once won is even more important to European populists, writes Zerka. The fact that Trump was elected at all gives them hope “making them more eligible or giving them hope that one day they too might win,” he said. More even “than the fact that he finally lost. It will give them hope for years to come.

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