Magazine article Newsweek

How Geert Wilders Lost Power but Gained Influence in the Netherlands; Populists Helped Move the Nation's Mainstream Parties to the Right and Transformed Political Norms despite Falling Short at the Polls

Magazine article Newsweek

How Geert Wilders Lost Power but Gained Influence in the Netherlands; Populists Helped Move the Nation's Mainstream Parties to the Right and Transformed Political Norms despite Falling Short at the Polls

Article excerpt

Byline: Josh Lowe

As results flooded in after the Dutch general election, incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte was beaming.

The country, he said, had hit back against far-right, anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders and the hate he espoused. Wilders's Party for Freedom came a distant second, with 20 seats, to Rutte's People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, which won 33. "The Netherlands said: 'Whoa!' to the wrong kind of populism," Rutte told supporters at a rally. Headlines proclaimed that, despite the nativist insurgencies of 2016, the Dutch had rallied in support of the liberal center.

RELATED: What you need to know about the Dutch election results

But the truth is not that simple. Wilders is out of power, but his influence is everywhere. He has shown how populists can transform political norms, even when they lose. Rutte's party responded to rising populism in the Netherlands by toughening its stance on immigration. Case in point: During the campaign, Rutte took out an ad in a Dutch paper that urged migrants in the Netherlands to "be normal or go away."

Meanwhile, the center-right Christian Democratic Appeal party, which took joint third place with 19 seats, campaigned on a nationalist, socially conservative platform. Unlike Wilders, the Christian Democrats support EU membership, and the party believes Muslims should be free to practice their religion. But it has called for Dutch Turks with passports from both countries to give up the Turkish ones, and backs symbolic initiatives like introducing singing the national anthem in schools--a dramatic move in the Netherlands, which wouldn't normally go in for such forthright patriotism.

Elsewhere in Europe, candidates facing their own populist challengers will consider whether they too should move to the right. …

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