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The New European Politics
The Shoe on the Other Foot

Spain faces do-over elections after a deadlock after the last one (held in December) left any party unable to form a coalition. But the ruling Conservatives think they have a strategy to break the deadlock—one that seems to come out of the old Continental center-left playbook. reports:

The strategy being rolled out by Rajoy’s conservatives breaks with his People’s Party concentrated assault on Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) in December’s elections. Rajoy came in first then but lost his majority, causing a political stalemate that failed to produce a governing coalition and resulted in the first repeat elections in modern Spanish history, which are scheduled for June 26.

Now he wants to win back conservatives who defected to the up-and-coming party Ciudadanos (Citizens), the pro-business group which came fourth after the PP, the Socialists and Podemos. Since December’s vote, Podemos has forged an electoral coalition with Alberto Garzón’s communist-led United Left that could push the PSOE into third place.

“Our country is facing a new crossroads,” says Rajoy in a new campaign video that sets the tone for the coming campaign. The video contrasts “the hope of moderate Spain” with the emergence of “an extremist alternative” which, Rajoy says, is a threat to national unity, constitutional democracy and Spain’s economic progress.

“If we don’t want Podemos to rule the country, the PP is the useful vote,” Pablo Casado, one of party’s communication chiefs, told a rally this weekend.

The European centre-left long ago realized that if it could force the voters to choose between itself and a populist, demagogic right-wing party, rather than the center-right, it would most often win. Ben Domenech has described this dynamic well:

In the 2002 French presidential election, fascist-style populist Jean-Marie Le Pen came in second in the first round of voting, meaning the French electorate had to choose between him and Jacques Chirac, a statist-right bureaucrat who never saw an individual liberty he didn’t want to slightly curtail. Voters recoiled from expressions of racism and fascistic xenophobia, and gave Chirac the largest majority of any French head of state in history. The next French presidential election is in 2017, and there is a very good chance that the 2002 scenario will repeat itself, with Jean-Marie’s daughter Marine Le Pen getting into the runoff (she has sought to increase her chances in part by forcing her father out). Between Francois Hollande and Le Pen, most decent people go for Hollande. For others, when neither major centrist party will prioritize or even acknowledge the problems faced by a people confronted by massive and troublesome issues of immigration and ethnic tension, eventually they feel they have no choice but to protest vote for Le Pen.

It’s interesting to see voters forced into this position vis-a-vis a populist-left, rather than populist-right, party. And it may be paying off. Politico again:

The polarizing strategy could benefit both the PP and Podemos by portraying them as the only alternatives, which would lure tactical votes from Ciudadanos and PSOE supporters, said Lluis Orriols, politics professor at Madrid’s Carlos III University.

A poll by Metroscopia published in Sunday’s El País newspaper showed PP’s support rising to 29.9 percent from 28.7 percent in the December elections, and the Podemos-IU coalition second with 23.2 percent of voter intentions — while the Socialists were seen falling to 20.2 percent from 22 percent in the last elections. Ciudadanos, in fourth place, rose to 15.5 percent from 13.9.

But just as the center-left and center-right have much in common, so too do the populist-left and the populist right. (This is particularly true in Europe, but you wouldn’t be wrong to pick up echoes in the U.S. these days, with Donald making overtures to Bernie’s supporters, and Hillary to horrified establishment Republicans.)

If Rajoy’s maneuver is successful, then it could accelerate the movement toward what we’ve called a new pan-European politics, where a consensus, pro-Brussels centrist party routinely dukes it out with a populist, anti-austerity, (soft-) euroskeptic party.

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  • Andrew Allison

    I think the underlying thesis is wrong. Like the US, much of Europe has been alternating between center-left and -right for decades. What we see today is a revolt against the center (left and right), a.k.a. “the establishment” which has so grossly failed its constituents. The real question is whether the mainstream parties will recognize the unrest and make changes or, as it appears in the case of the Austrian election, simply breath a sigh of relieve that the barbarians failed to storm the gates and continue business as usual. An ever-increasing number of people are demanding CHANGE!

  • FriendlyGoat

    The populist left and the populist right actually have nothing in common other than frustration with the growing powerlessness of the lower middle class. There are no policy prescriptions which overlap.

    • Jim__L

      Except immigration. And trade.

      • f1b0nacc1

        “After all, what have the Romans ever done for us?”

      • FriendlyGoat

        Real Republicans from the business community don’t want the guest workers deported and don’t want trade deals ended or reversed. What Donald talks about IS NOT what GOP Congress members are interested in doing.

        • f1b0nacc1

          And who appointed you as the arbiter of what a ‘Real Republican’ is? There are a great many people in both the Democrat and Republican parties who strongly oppose both free trade and open immigration. That doesn’t make them less authentic, it makes them people with ideas in the marketplace. For the record, I am a believer in free trade, and though I don’t favor the current immigration policies, I am probably not a ‘build a wall’ type either, though in truth I sometimes find myself moving that way. The GOP, just like the Democrats, have room for a lot of view points and I should think that someone with such a hard-on for diversity like yourself would welcome this…

          • FriendlyGoat

            Real Republicans are for high-end tax cuts, deregulation of business practices, “capture” of government by the incorporated business community, appointment of corporate-leaning judges, annihilation of unions, negligence of meaningful minimum wages, and well-lobbied trade agreements with as little worker protection as possible in them for workers in any country. I am not being an “arbiter”. I am reporting the facts for people who don’t know the facts.

            With Donald, they might build some new sections of wall or fence in certain areas. They ABSOLUTELY will not deport all the guest workers as has been implied. The trade deals will not get better—-they most likely will get worse.

            Donald will cave to absolutely everything ever wanted by the House “Freedom Caucus” just as they reversed him already on “bathroom bills”, guns and abortion. He might as well be a lump of clay for the way he will be molded, shaped, caved in and used.

          • f1b0nacc1

            If Trump were willing to cave to the Freedom Caucus, this wouldn’t be an election, it would be a rout and Hillary would be lucky to escape with her freedom. As it stands, he is much more likely to compromise (or sell out, depending upon who you talk to), which is in fact part of his charm. I don’t support all of Trump’s proposals, but I am quite confident that between the GOP’s self-appointed elites and the Democrats tribals, he will get little support and less cooperation in implementing any of them. Hence we will have stasis and gridlock, which is fine with me.
            As for what real Republicans stand for, you manage to show your obvious ignorance once again. The GOP contains a fairly diverse group, from the Chamber of Commerce types to the socons to the libertarian wannabes like myself. The boogeymen you refer to are some odd mix that exist mostly in your own fever dreams. You ignore the inconvenient facts that the TPP for instance wasn’t a GOP creation, but rather something negotiated by the Obama administration and defeated (or at least largely stopped for the time being) by a revolt among conservative Republicans. Most of the rest of your rant is the standard-issue drivel, as fact free as the rest.
            As your buddy Anthony would say (though I will spare you the pompous pseudo-academic verbiage and irrelevant quotes from the usual online journals), I am done here.

          • FriendlyGoat

            A liberal like me can always know he has properly hit the nail when f1b0nacc1 bails out.
            You are correct to note, though, that Trump has proposed a lot of things for which there is no Congressional support. This is why he has been lying all along about all his “different” ideas and why his supporters will never get any of them.
            What Donald would do is sign any “hack” thing given to him by a GOP Congress. THEIR ideas. None of HIS ideas.

          • Anthony

            Stay in your limited lane and leave me out of your commentary Scott (I have no grudge against “hedgehog” thinking) and nothing personal but I’ve been done upon…arrival. So, resent elsewhere.

          • f1b0nacc1

            I struck a nerve! how charming….

          • Anthony

            No, what you did Scott is bring to light again (as you’ve made gratuitous, unprovoked sullying part of your repertoire) that you will engage in “low brow” commentary for reasons of your own – I’ve deliberately stayed clear but to no avail as this is not you first (as they say in the world of athletics) “cheap shot”. I’m done here.

          • Fred

            That’s in your head. No one respected you then; no one does now. You are the same supercilious twit though. I’ll give you that.

          • Anthony
        • Angel Martin

          “What Donald talks about IS NOT what GOP Congress members are interested in doing.”

          There is now very little support in the Republican Conference for TPP or any other “free trade” agreement. And that comes directly from the attitudes of Repub voters. Republicans who ignore that will go the way of Eric Cantor.

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