What Do the Argentinian and Dutch Elections Mean for the United States?

Foreign Policy Brief #108 | By: Arvind Salem | December 26, 2023
Javier Milei & Geert Wilder: Photo by Indy Silva

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Policy Summary:

It’s not often that political observers look to international elections to forecast outcomes in the U.S. presidential elections, yet wins from populist candidates Javier Milei in Argentina and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands are giving political observers on the left in the United States cause for alarm, especially coupled with Trump’s consistent advantage in the polls, especially in key swing states.

To start with the more famous of the two cases, Javier Milei’s victory in Argentina to become the country’s new President eerily resembles the very same themes that Trump himself rode to victory in 2016. Milei, a Libertarian economist with no government experience, won the decisive run-off round 56% to 44% against Sergio Massa, his left-wing opponent, on the back of railing against the “political elite” and campaigning on aggressively cutting back government spending. Despite his aggressive language, observers quickly noted that his party doesn’t have a majority in Argentina’s Congress, which will force him to work with the political elite he often disparaged. This is not to say that Milei’s election is completely inconsequential: in just one month he closed and merged several industries, reducing Argentina’s cabinet from18 to 9 in an effort to curb government spending. Highlighting the Trumpian nature of his proposed policies, President Trump himself celebrated Milei’s victory, saying that Milei would “Make Argentina Great Again”.

Yet while Milei’s victory was expected, the surprising part was the margin, Geert Wilders’s election was completely unexpected. If Milei mirrors Trump economically, Wilder made his name by mirroring Trump’s policies socially. Although far from an outsider, Wilder set up his own anti-migrant Freedom Party, known as the PVV in Dutch and has been a fixture in Dutch politics since he was elected to Parliament in 1998, Wilder has many populist policies, especially being fiercely anti-Islamic and anti-migrant. He has advocated for the “de-Islamization” of the Netherlands and has said that he wants no mosques or Islamic schools in the country. His current victory has been propelled by a strong anti-migrant stance, especially as the previous government coalition was forced to resign since they couldn’t deal with excessive immigration. In his party’s election manifesto it says that the Netherlands has, “has been seriously weakened due the ongoing asylum tsunami and mass immigration”. His signature proposals have to do with foreign policy, an area inextricably linked to immigration and asylum, calling for a binding referendum on leaving the European Union, for the Netherlands to withdraw from international climate obligations, and for the Netherlands to stop sending aid to Ukraine. It is worthy to note that Wilder is not guaranteed to secure the Prime Minister job, since his party is expected to win 37 seats, which is short of the 76 needed to secure a majority. In Dutch politics, many parties form a “governing coalition”, who elects the Prime Minister, so Wilder needs to secure the support of other parties to become Prime Minister. This system acts as a moderating force, making it very possible that Wilder doesn’t secure the top position. However, regardless of whether Wilder ends up being Prime Minister, his party has seen a surge in popularity: winning 37 seats this cycle, the most of any party, compared to 17 seats last election, an unmistakable trend towards the far-right.

Policy Analysis:

Pragmatically, the election of Milei is not a bad thing for the United States. Amid concerns that Argentina, the second biggest economy in South America, is turning more towards China, Milei’s Anti-Communist viewpoints make it clear that he is not keen on close ties with China beyond what is absolutely necessary. He has also made it clear that he seeks to form closer ties with the United States and Israel. Additionally, his signature economic policy of transitioning away from the peso and towards the U.S. dollar is a good thing for the United States, since our economic dominance is largely predicated on the fact that the U.S. dollar is such a widely used reserve currency. An economy of this size that is looking to transition to the U.S. dollar is especially valuable given the fact that foreign rivals such as China and Russia are looking to transition away from the dollar, most notably Russia is spearheading a new currency for BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) to use instead of the dollar.

As for worries about Milei’s populist appeal, observers ignore the fact that the appeal of “trust me because the previous establishment failed” only works once, which is why when Trump tried to make that same appeal in 2020 it didn’t work. Milei’s election now and Trump’s election in 2016 was a bet on a new way of thinking in the face of economic stagnation. And for Milei, his libertarian policies are quickly wreaking havoc on the economy: inflation, the very problem that Milei campaigned on fixing, is actually increasing ever since he came into office. This is due to the fact that the previous government had implemented a complex set of currency controls and consumer subsidies to artificially raise the peso’s value and keep the prices low, however with Milei’s libertarian approach, he rolled back these measures and Argentina is now paying the price. He is characterizing these woes as short-term ills that are necessary for Argentina’s economic revival, and only time will tell if he’s right, but so far his policies have been milder than promised and his extreme measures have failed. If anything, this election could provide valuable ammunition for why these types of policies don’t work. In fact, Trump himself likely doesn’t agree with some of these libertarian policies, considering one of his key promises in 2016 was instituting protectionism as a response to NAFTA, which is opposite of Milei’s promises of unshackling the economy through ending protectionism and promising free trade.

As for Wilder, while his election represents a rise in far-right sentiment, the only reason he is even close to being Prime Minister is due to the Dutch political system’s feature of coalition governments. If Wilder was in a two-party system like the United States, given the fact that he doesn’t control around 75% of the government, it is clear that these attitudes still do not possess majority support. Additionally, although Wilder’s better performance this cycle than last is worrying, it fails to account for the fact that anti-Islamic sentiment is at an all-time high due to the conflicts between Israel and Hamas, meaning that this time is likely the most effective this type of messaging will ever be and Wilder’s popularity should subside in later elections.

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Engagement Resources:

  • Joe Biden for President: Those who are concerned about the far-right populist sentiment in other countries and seek to avoid those types of policies being realized in the United States, should consider exploring this campaign.
  • Asylum Seekers Advocacy Project: This organization advocates for the rights of asylum seekers in the United States. Readers worried about anti-asylum sentiment abroad and want to stop its spread to the United States should consider exploring this organization.
  • FAIR: FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, is a nonpartisan, public-interest organization that seeks to evaluate policies and develop solutions to reduce the impact of excessive immigration on all facets of the nation including security, the economy, and healthcare. Readers who want to consider immigration in the United States after seeing Dutch struggles with the issue may be interested in this organization.
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