Americans know European elections are really about America
US politics do's and don’ts from the U.K., France and Germany
As Americans, we know that everything is about us. That’s why we look to other Western elections for insights into American politics.
Perhaps you thought voting results in Britain, France, and Germany tell us what the British, French, and German people want.
You’d be wrong. As American media, politicians, and activists helpfully point out, elections in Europe tell us what the people want. Meaning the people who matter. Americans.
Since every European election is just a trial run for an American campaign, here are some lessons U.S. politicians should draw from recent votes in the U.K., France, and Germany as they gear up for 2018 and 2020:
DO: Run an unabashedly leftist campaign
When Jeremy Corbyn took over the Labour Party in 2015, many predicted disaster. Along with his kooky personal style, Corbyn advocates policies out of the British mainstream.
A self-described democratic socialist, Corbyn wants to increase social spending and taxes, nationalize the railroads, withdraw U.K. forces from foreign postings, turn isolationist, and unilaterally give up Britain’s nuclear weapons.
Well, it turns out the so-called “experts” had it wrong. Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May called early elections for June 2017, expecting to increase her majority. But Corbyn surprised by gaining seats, leading to a hung Parliament.
American progressives couldn’t contain their excitement. Corbyn didn’t hide his socialist leanings. He held well-attended rallies. And he got young people to turn out and vote.
Here was proof Bernie Sanders can win. Even better, Bernie’s not dogged by accusations he associates with anti-Semites.
DON’T: Threaten old people’s health care
By all accounts, Theresa May ran a terrible campaign. Leading solidly in the polls, May’s Tories released a manifesto calling for, among other brilliant ideas, cutting seniors’ home care coverage and forcing their estate to pay for it after they die.
In American terms, that’s cutting Medicare and implementing a death tax for everyone worth more than $100,000.
British papers labeled it the “Dementia Tax.”
Under pressure, Conservatives removed the proposal, but that didn’t help. May presented herself as a steady hand and tough negotiator who could guide the U.K. through Brexit. Making a tough proposal to save money and then folding in the face of criticism didn’t exactly support her pitch.
So get excited, Bernie fans. If you run against an opponent who threatens to take away old people’s health care and undermines her main campaign theme, you too can advocate an unabashedly leftist program and come in second.
DO: Run an unabashedly centrist campaign
After Brexit and Donald Trump’s unexpected victory, the “experts” said a wave of right-wing populism was sweeping the West. And France’s Marine Le Pen was next.
Le Pen and her party, the National Front, had it all: Anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Europe, favored by Russia, and supported by alt-right memes. Sure, she was trailing in the polls. But that’s just what happens before you win.
Her opponent, Emmanuel Macron, ran as a pro-Europe centrist. He served under Socialist President Francois Hollande, but previously worked as an investment banker and wants to cut public spending. In the first round, he ran to the left of conservative Francois Fillon, and to the right of socialist Jean-Luc Mélenchon. In the general election, he ran as the sane choice against Le Pen’s radicalism, winning more than 66% of the vote.
And, if there’s one thing we know about American voters, it’s that they’ll put aside their political differences to back a sane choice over a wild card.
DON’T: Be good looking
Pretty politicians can’t convince voters they’re average, everyday folks. You don’t need to be hideous or anything, but to lead the people you must be of the people, not above them.
DO: Be good looking
Candidates are celebrities — they’re supposed to be better than you. They’re marketing an image, and, as with shampoo, sex sells.
DO: Be an outsider
More than anything else, Macron’s outsider status boosted his candidacy.
Voters are unhappy with the status quo, which is why they turned to a new candidate heading up a new party to shake things up.
DON’T: Be an outsider
Angela Merkel just won a fourth term as Chancellor of Germany, beating the second place party by 12.5 percentage points. More than anything else, her insider status boosted her candidacy.
Voters are unhappy with the status quo, which is why they turned to a steady hand to guide them through tough times.
DON’T: Be a woman
DON’T: Be a woman
DON’T: Be a woman unless you’re smart, experienced, and promising to continue the policies of the last decade
DON’T: Be friendly to Donald Trump
Theresa May tried to work with Trump, and lost (sort of).
Macron defeated a right-wing populist, and subsequently boosted his popularity by besting Trump in a goofy contest for handshake dominance.
And no leader could be more Not Donald Trump than Angela Merkel.
So there you go, Democrats. The European elections prove that what Americans really want is a socialist or a centrist, who is good looking or not, an outsider or insider, a woman or man, and anti-Trump.
You should take heed: Scrap those ideas of running a pro-Trump candidate and go with what the people want.