Cordons Sanitaire

With Le Pen forecasted to lose the run-off election in May, the MSM is full of stories of how Populism may have crested, displaying the collective relief the Establishment has at Geert Wilders’ loss and (possibly) Le Pen’s.

But, buried inside the NYT is “Populism, Far From Turned Back, May Be Just Getting Started” by Max Fisher and Amanda Taub:

Populism, research suggests, has been steadily growing since the 1960s. It is now reaching a size that is often too small to win outright, but is large enough to shape and, at times, to upend the politics of a country.

Whether populist parties win or lose depends not just on the level of popular support — which appears surprisingly consistent across countries — but also on the nature of the political system.

Western populism may be entering something like its awkward teenage years — able to borrow the car but not own it, have an influence on the household but be too young to run it.

Still, research suggests it will continue growing as a political force….

While elections are unpredictable and anything is possible, Ms. Le Pen is projected to lose the second round by as much as 20 percent. So though the populist wave is rising, its pace is too slow to alone propel her into power.

This is the nature of populism’s awkward size. It is too small to reliably win national elections. But it is large enough to reframe politics, in France and elsewhere, as a debate between globalism and ethno-nationalism. Trend lines continue to point upward.

In other words, the Overton Window is shifting. If Le Pen loses, the MSM will no doubt portray it as a “humiliation” and a “repudiation” of populism.

But this is far from the truth.

… Mr. Wilders had been held back by the mathematical tyranny of parliamentary systems, not just by an anti-populist backlash.

In parliamentary systems, votes tend to be split across several parties, with none securing a majority on its own. To govern, a party has to form a majority coalition with other parties.

This means that as long as a populist party does not win more than 50 percent of the vote — virtually impossible in systems like that of the Netherlands — the other parties can band together to form a coalition excluding it, known as a “cordon sanitaire.”

Yet even though Mr. Wilders did not take control of government, his movement and policies advanced.

The center-right party, which leads the government, held power in part by co-opting Mr. Wilders’s message, particularly on immigration. Mark Rutte, the prime minister, told migrants in an open letter shortly before the vote, “Act normal or leave.”…

Over time, these dynamics could further accelerate populism’s rise, Cas Mudde, a Dutch political scientist, wrote in Foreign Affairs in September.

As more populist parties become their country’s second or third largest, mainstream parties will have to form more “cordons sanitaire” to keep them out. For populist voters, this feels like an establishment conspiracy to repress popular will, deepening outrage at a seemingly unresponsive system.

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