Echoes of Clinton-Trump Contest in the Netherlands

One could cast the Netherlands’ Mark Rutte in the role of Hillary Clinton and Geert Wilders as Donald Trump.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte answers questions in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, July 5
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte answers questions in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, July 5 (European Parliament)

Tom-Jan Meeus has a good piece in Politico about the state of Dutch politics five months out from the next election.

Meeus, who is a political columnist and former United States correspondent for NRC Handelsblad, argues that there is a American influence on this election: Should Donald Trump win in November, Meeus expects his Dutch counterpart, Geert Wilders, will shift further to the right. Mark Rutte, the incumbent center-right prime minister, could benefit if Hillary Clinton prevails.

This probably oversells the effect of America’s elections on the Netherlands’, but Meeuw is onto something.

Wilders, a Euroskeptic and anti-Islamist, originally had misgivings about associating himself with the fringe right. That has changed. He is now formally allied with other nationalist parties in Europe, including Marine Le Pen’s Front national in France and the even less respectable Vlaams Belang in Belgium. He crossed a line for many in 2014 when he said he wanted “fewer Moroccans” in the city of The Hague, where his party had placed second in municipal elections that year.

A Trump victory could normalize the unceremonious, hard-right style of politics Wilders shares with the Republican.

A win for Clinton, on the other hand, could rehabilitate politics as usual. She, like Rutte, represents consensus and a respect for political norms.

Love/hate compromise

Meeus argues that while the Dutch love to hate compromise, they also “tend to support the politician most skilled at delivering it.”

That is clearly Rutte, who is a master at finding parliamentary majorities for his policies.

His first government, from 2010 to 2012, involved the Christian Democrats as well as Wilders’ Freedom Party. When the latter balked at additional austerity measures and walked out, Rutte formed a coalition with the center-left Labor Party instead. Short of a majority in the Senate, the two have since done deals on everything from energy to tax policy with a variety of parties close to the center.

This has made all of them suspect in the eyes of anti-establishment voters. The only two parties that have remained steadfast in their opposition to dealmaking are the far-left Socialists and Wilders’. But polls only give them a combined 28 percent of the seats.

The Socialists have been not been able to benefit from Labor’s collapse. Whereas the latter could lose two-thirds of their seats, surveys give the Socialists no more than the fifteen they won in 2012.

Rutte’s liberal party is also down but still vying for first place with Wilders’.

Up are the Christian Democrats, liberal Democrats and Greens — the three parties most inclined to compromise with others.

Inflated Wilders

We’ve been here before. Before the last election, Wilders’ Freedom Party seemed competitive as well with some surveys putting him in first or second place.

Then in the weeks leading up to the election his support waned.

All parties except the liberals have explicitly ruled out forming a government with Wilders and even Rutte has his doubts. Chances of Wilders becoming prime minister are nil.

More likely, Rutte will stay in power, heading an unprecedented coalition of four or five parties.

It would be an unwieldy experiment.

It’s also the sort of thing he’s been doing for six years now.

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