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Spain’s Vox Party Provides Hope and Challenges for Global Populist Right

EFE/ Juan Carlos Hidalgo

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[Leer en español]

The success of Spain’s Vox party kindles hope for the popular right and a warning for the technocratic right. The importance of this lesson goes far beyond Spain and has particular relevance to the Republican Party in America.

On February 14th, local elections were held in Catalonia, which has been marked for decades by the debate regarding the option of independence from Spain and by the constant presence of left-wing movements.

The Catalan right-wing was until a few days ago in the hands of the “Partido Popular” (PP) and “Ciudadanos”, two parties that embody what we can call the “technocratic right”: more focused on public administration than on political debate, anxious to look good to the left and to appear civilized and tolerant.

This time both parties were clearly surpassed by Vox, the popular right-wing formation that -in less than a decade-, went from being a handful of activists on a bench to become the third most important political force in Spain. Now Vox has specifically entered Catalonia where it will be the fourth force in the Catalan Parliament with 11 representatives, once again disproving the experts who ruled out any possibility of significant progress for the popular right in that region.

The Spanish language gives us hopes and warnings whose value goes far beyond the Iberian Peninsula. Vox exemplifies the clash between the new popular right and the old technocratic right, with hopes and warnings that, here in America, the Republican Party should take into account for its strategic repositioning in view of the mid-term elections of 2022.

The two hopes arising from Vox

First: There is life after cancellation. Cancel culture has become one of the most effective weapons of progressivism, especially in America, because it involves mobilizing the ecosystem of the industrial press and the consensus of social networks against a group, person or idea, in order to permanently discredit it.

The same thing the progressives (in team with the technocratic right) tried to do against Vox. They defamed them tirelessly on television, accused them of being ultra-right-wingers and launched a “sanitary fence” to prevent them from having political participation.

However, that did not stop Vox, which in fact leveraged on the attacks to consolidate an image of relevance and defiance. Instead of apologizing and begging for mercy in the face of the progressive hordes, Vox has taken advantage of every space of controversy to endorse and explain its views, without yielding one iota of its agenda.

The result is that more and more people, both on the right and on the left, have decided to vote for Vox, not only because of an ideological coincidence, but also as an endorsement of the image of courage and authenticity that it conveys and which contrasts drastically with the falseness and political calculations that distinguish the technocratic right of the PP and Ciudadanos.

Second: It is not indispensable to fight from the narrative of the left. The technocratic right, both in Spain and in America, lost the cultural struggle and resigned itself to live and compete in a narrative controlled by its political enemies, withdrawn in a defensive strategy to permanently and unsuccessfully escape the accusations of classism, sexism and racism thrown at them by a left that, at the same time, functions as audience, judge, jury and executioner.

On the contrary, Vox understood that it is not mandatory to fight in other people’s courts and that there was another option: to reject and denounce not only the politicians of the left, but also their narratives. In this way, the politicians of that party do not apologize, they simply find other spaces and other narrative frameworks to connect with an increasing percentage of the Spanish population.

There is an extra lesson here: by hurling accusations of Nazism against all that breathes, the left has cheapened the term. Twenty years ago, an accusation of Nazism would have almost immediately destroyed any politician; today it is hurled so often that it has become increasingly irrelevant; and the only ones who are not aware of this are the politicians of the technocratic right, who are too busy on their permanent tour of apologies to a left that despises them.

The two warnings launched by Vox

First: The popular right can defeat the technocratic right. The Spanish technocratic right spent years despising and fighting Vox, and they lost. Ciudadanos has basically collapsed and the PP is losing more and more space. The results of the Catalan elections are a clear example of this phenomenon: 4 years ago Vox did not make a difference; in 2021 it obtained more deputies (11) than the sum of PP and Ciudadanos (9).

Second: The conflict between the popular right and the technocratic right can benefit the left (at least in the short term). “Dividing the vote” does imply a risk that cannot be omitted. The problem is that for too long the technocratic right has used the “let’s not divide” argument as a pretext to keep the right-wing vote almost kidnapped under the threat of “either you support us or you throw your vote away”. And that extortion deepens even more the distrust of the citizen with respect to the right and feeds the feeling of political orphanhood that in turn encourages the emergence of popular right-wing spaces, such as the one represented by Vox in Spain or by Trump in the United States.

The lesson for the GOP

The GOP should take heed of what has happened with Vox, especially now that the complex calculations ahead of the midterm elections are coming. Denying Trump and dismissing Trumpism as heresy sounds tempting, but it would be a blunder. The handful of Republican congressmen and senators who joined the slapstick opera of impeachment got in return invitations to the Bill Maher show and pats on the back from the left, and at the same time, formed an image of traitors to their own party base, which will cost them dearly in the primaries.

For the time being, the swift rejection by an overwhelming majority of Republican senators of impeachment against Trump, and the meetings that Donald had with GOP leaders, indicate that Republicans are understanding the lesson. However, this does not imply that the way forward is simple, and perhaps the best example is the case of Mitch McConnell, coordinator of the GOP senators: He voted against condemning Trump, but condemned him on the facts with an aggressive speech.

What will happen now?

If, under the current circumstances, Trump breaks with the Republican Party and launches the Patriot Party, there is a very real possibility that the new party will become the benchmark of the right, driven by the inspiration of the popular right, while the Republicans are left with the empty shell of a soulless party.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. The GOP can also learn from the British Conservative Party, which in the face of the growth of the popular right led by Nigel Farage (via UKIP and the Brexit Party) responded by replacing the technocratic Theresa May with the charismatic Boris Johnson, as well as demonstrating solidity in backing Brexit. As a result, the Conservatives assimilated into their ranks most of the popular right, which will be support rather than competition.

The key is to understand that the popular right is here to stay and in the face of this reality, the technocratic right has two options: Either it adapts and yields spaces within the traditional parties, or it will regret in the medium term when the new popular parties snatch away the vote, the triumph and the social representation. Just ask Vox.

Gerardo Garibay Camarena, is a doctor of law, writer and political analyst with experience in the public and private sectors. His new book is "How to Play Chess Without Craps: A Guide to Reading Politics and Understanding Politicians" // Gerardo Garibay Camarena es doctor en derecho, escritor y analista político con experiencia en el sector público y privado. Su nuevo libro es “Cómo jugar al ajedrez Sin dados: Una guía para leer la política y entender a los políticos”

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