The exit polls for the UK general election had barely been published and US pundits were already tweeting out the lessons for next year’s US presidential election. It’s almost as if their conclusions had been reached before the results were known. “Right populism will always beat left populism,” tweeted Yascha Mounk. Perhaps that’s the case, but I don’t know of many elections in which right and left populism were up against each other. And that’s leaving aside whether the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is a left populist in the first place, which even Mounk admitted is “not obvious”.
Jonathan Chait, a columnist at New York Magazine, published a piece entitled American Leftists Believed Corbyn’s Inevitable Victory Would Be Their Model, which mostly challenged the optimism among the US left following Corbyn’s surprise performance in the 2017 elections. The point of these interventions was obvious: Corbyn’s defeat shows that the Democratic party should not elect a “hard left” candidate, such as Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, and can only win with a “moderate” candidate such as Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg. Joe Biden said as much, arguing “this is what happens” when you move “so, so far to the left”.
This could well be true, although I remain unconvinced – especially as the UK elections definitely don’t provide any specific evidence for this conclusion. In many ways, the results were in line with broader trends in Europe, notably that (radicalized) mainstream rightwing parties are quite successful, as, for instance, in Austria and the Netherlands, while social democratic parties are getting hammered virtually everywhere, irrespective of whether they are “moderate” or “radical”. [Continue reading…]