That vision might have dimmed following Trump’s defeat in last year’s presidential election, but it didn’t disappear completely: Many of the European figures who have an affinity for the American president remained supportive of him in the fraught, contested aftermath of the vote. The far-right French politician Marine Le Pen continued to call into question Biden’s victory well after the results were announced (an outcome she publicly acknowledged only this week). Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša went as far as to prematurely congratulate Trump on the election. But by Wednesday, both politicians had changed tack. Janša tweeted, “All should be very troubled by the violence taking place in Washington D.C.” Le Pen condemned “any violent act that aims to disrupt the democratic process” and urged Trump to do the same.
This wasn’t an ideological break. Many of the same figures who decried the violence in the U.S. had openly stated their desire that Trump win reelection. Even after his defeat, few of them rushed to acknowledge Biden’s victory, let alone condemn the president’s efforts to undermine trust in American democracy with baseless claims of voter fraud or calls to force the election outcome in his favor—the consequences of which were on full display in the Capitol. Virtually all of them stopped short of assigning Trump blame for the violence.
But perhaps the break was a practical one. Even populists who show nothing but disdain for democratic institutions don’t want to be associated with an insurrection, or be seen to be inciting one. The scenes of red-capped Trump supporters waltzing through the halls of Congress, some wielding Confederate flags and sporting sweaters emblazoned with messages such as Camp Auschwitz, are enough to make anyone bristle.* For Europe’s far-right leaders such as Le Pen, whose efforts to distance her party from its history of xenophobia and Holocaust denial have had limited success, those images would have served as a reminder of exactly the fascist association they are trying to avoid.
Adam Serwer: The Capitol riot was an attack on multiracial democracy
Trump’s erstwhile cheerleaders abroad might be keen to distance themselves for another, deeper reason: While populists have no problem attacking institutions and other threats to their power, they still claim to have a democratic mandate. Their legitimacy hinges on the populist notion that they represent an imagined “real people” against corrupt elites. Being seen to openly support undermining the democratic process, as Trump has, would undermine their very claim to power. “Anyone who violently attacks parliaments aims at the heart of democracy,” Tino Chrupalla, the spokesperson for the far-right Alternative for Germany, said in a tweet.
It was perhaps because of the widespread condemnation, from both his own party and his allies overseas, that Trump felt compelled on Thursday to characterize those involved in the insurrection as “intruders” who “do not represent our country”—the same individuals he had expressed sympathy and love for only a day earlier.