Why Europe's far right hasn't warmed to Donald Trump

Only 9 percent of Europeans trust presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump's decisionmaking in world affairs. Analysts say Western Europe's distrust of the far right and Mr. Trump's isolationist policies are responsible for his low standing. 

Carlo Allegri/Reuters
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at Turnberry Golf course in Turnberry, Scotland, June 24. Only 9 percent of Europeans trust his foreign policy judgement, according to poll released Wednesday.

Europeans overwhelmingly do not trust presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's decisionmaking in world affairs, according to a new Pew Research Center poll. Their fears stem in part from how Mr. Trump's more isolationist, "America first" foreign policy would harm the continent. 

Only 9 percent of Europeans in 10 European Union countries are confident that Mr. Trump will do the right thing regarding world affairs, while 59 percent expressed confidence in presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. By comparison, 77 percent are confident in President Obama. 

"Most mainstream Europeans dislike Trump because he is a right-wing populist ... and most mainstream Europeans would abhor his policies," Thorsten Benner, the director of the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin, tells The Christian Science Monitor. "But he doesn't even catch on with those who would share his right-wing populist values ... if you're not American, you get a little suspicious about what [Trump's 'America First' foreign policy] means for you." 

Nationalist and right wing parties in Europe have been growing in recent years. In Austria, for example, Norbert Hofer, the presidential candidate of the far-right Freedom Party, won the first vote for the largely ceremonial role with 36 percent of the votes before narrowly losing in a runoff with 49.7 percent of the vote.

In France, Marine Le Pen's National Front won the 2014 French European Parliament election with 25 percent of the vote, and Ms. Le Pen is expected to make a push for the French presidency next year. Populist parties represent about 20 percent of the electorate on average in Europe, Mr. Benner says. 

The sluggish economic recovery in many European countries after the 2008 downtown has made many Europeans look inward and want to restrict immigration, Jacqueline Gehring, an associate professor of political science and international studies at Allegheny College in Meadville, Penn., who studies European politics, tells the Monitor. The rise of the Islamic State and dramatic increase in refugees from the Middle East and Africa have also contributed to the parties' success. 

In Eastern Europe, the far right has a stronger grasp because the stigma around the continent's Nazi past is weaker than in Western Europe, she says. The Hungarian government, for example, led by right-wing populist prime minister Viktor Orbán, re-wrote its constitution and has been criticized for meddling with its supreme court line-up and discriminating against its Roma minority. Poland's government has been making similar moves, Professor Gehring said.

However, the far right remains a minority in many European countries and is distrusted by most Europeans, she says, and stigma prevents such movements from gathering enough momentum to capture a presidency in Western Europe. 

But many mainstream Europeans distrust more than Trump's policies themselves, which they see as racist and xenophobic. Trump's ideological flexibility contrasts with their own leaders, usually more closely tied to a certain set of views, Gehring says.  

Trump's wealth is less appealing to Europeans, Benner says, and many right-wing populists, such as France's Le Pen, are "strongly anti-American," further dampening the presumptive GOP nominee's appeal on the continent. 

"Anti-Americanism trumps authoritarian like-mindedness, especially since 'America First' doesn't come across as too appealing a slogan to most non-Americans," he says, and Trump hasn't tried to mend the gap. "It's remarkable Trump doesn't even seem to win over the like-minded Europeans who are also afraid of migration, Muslims, [and] falling behind in global economic competition," Benner says.

Trump's major foreign policy speech in April hinted that America would be more isolationist if he were elected, when "'America first' will be the overriding theme of my administration." He said he would "rebalance" America's contributions and look for more financial contribution from America's allies. 

The suggestion that Europe needs to defend itself is particularly troubling to many Eastern European voters, including the far-right, who worry about possible aggression from Russia. NATO recently announced it would be adding around 4,000 troops in Eastern Europe, its largest military buildup since the end of the cold war.

Also, some of Europe's nationalist parties want more governmental intervention in the economy, while Trump appears to have more of a free-market policy.    

Gehring says the poll is telling, since Europeans usually pay close attention to US politics, given the president's power in foreign affairs. 

"They're often more informed about the American election than many Americans are, and its because the United States plays such an important role for Europe in many different ways," she says. "It doesn't surprise me they would be concerned about a leader they're not sure that they could trust or would keep the world stable." 

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