Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election in November was heralded as the latest in a series of triumphs for the populist right: First there was Brexit, followed by a series of gains for right-wing, anti-immigration parties in Europe. When Italians voted against a referendum backed by Prime Minster Matteo Renzi in December, it looked like proof of the populist wave’s continued surge.
But a poorer-than-expected showing by Geert Wilders’s Dutch Freedom Party (PVV), with nearly 80 percent turnout, in elections on Wednesday complicates the picture. While Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy lost eight seats, it will be the biggest party in the 150-seat Dutch parliament. Wilders’s party won 20, short of the 30 it hoped to pick up.
It’s too soon to declare the populist wave dead, but with Wilders’s stumble, it’s worth at least raising the question of whether Trump’s victory may have been the high-water mark for the right-wing populist movement.
Rutte, who is expected to remain in power, is hardly a dove on immigration, but he’s not as hardline as Wilders. And unlike the platinum-pompadoured populist, he is favorable toward European integration. Wilders has been styled in the press as the Dutch Donald Trump, a comparison that he has at times courted—Wilders dropped by the 2016 Republican National Convention, where Trump was formally nominated, even as many top Republicans stayed away. He contributes to Breitbart, the court organ of the Trump administration. Even his campaign slogan was a variation on Trump’s.