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Political Marketing for Populists

Geert Wilders, the leader of the Freedom Party (PVV), is also infamously known as anti-immigration, anti-Islam, and a Eurosceptic. With the disconcerting rise of right-wing populism, the results of the Dutch national election have afforded a sigh of relief for many throughout Europe, and the world. As if Wilders’ popularity in the Netherlands is not concerning enough, the use of Wilders’ political marketing mirrored many of the tactics and political rhetoric of the ill-famed Donald Trump.

The lead up to the Dutch national election was plagued with Wilders leading in the polls. This gain was backed by a party platform that was summarized on a single page; tactics that Trump knew all too well: repeat simple, key messages meant for a common voter. The resemblances of Wilders’ campaign were dangerously similar to that of Trump’s from the use of framing and outrageous Tweeting, to boycotting interviews and debates. Wilder’s political marketing took more than a few pages from the “Trump playbook.”

Political Rhetoric

Propagating messages directly to voters, through repetition of simple messages, with little substance appeals to the common voter. Yet, most political sophisticates can see that this use of framing is simply a persuasive political marketing technique. Trump won his campaign by appealing to the “everyday” American fed up with the establishment; while Wilders mirrored this marketing tactic appealing to the everyday Dutch voter, as Henk and Ingrid referred to them. Both Wilders and Trump used provocative accusations and slogans to raise attention and advertise themselves as the most ethnically intolerant candidate. Trump garnered support by labeling Mexicans as rapists, and Wilders echoed the same rhetoric only with Moroccans and Muslims. To make a more obvious comparison, one does not need to be an expert in rhetoric to spot the obvious similarities in Wilders’ New Years Eve Tweet.

Perhaps Wilders should have been subtler, it is clear that he was channelling his inner Trump, borrowing Trump’s favourite adjective (fantastic, of course), and only slightly altering his campaign slogan.

A Personal Narrative

How was Wilders’ campaign successful based on a platform that was highly racist but incredibly low on substance? Wilders avoided mainstream media by refusing many interviews and boycotting participation in debates to create a media narrative that was largely controlled by his party and followers. Sound familiar? Much of Trump’s success can be attributed to his erratic, offensive, and often entertaining use of his personal Twitter account. By evading the mainstream media Wilders and Trump were able to spew dishonest, divisive, and racist messages that provoked hatred, passion, and support for their campaigns.

Twitter: the Ultimate Tool for a Populist

The use of Twitter was instrumental in Trump’s campaign; Wilders took inspiration from Trump’s Twitter success and summarized the lack of integrity that characterized his entire campaign in a single Tweet.

This Tweet was an altered photo, which photoshopped the D66 leader Alexander Pechtold into a rally that presented signs promoting Shariah law and pinning Islam against Europe. Although most recognized this tweet as manipulated by Wilders, it was successful at reinforcing this anti-Islam narrative. Once again, Twitter acted as a forum where Wilders could control the message, a message that would not have been picked up by any reputable mainstream news source. Fellow politicians urged Wilders to delete his Twitter account, with Wilders responding “180 characters and an old fake photo from 2009. #ilovetwitter.” More like, how much rubbish can you pack into 180 characters? #FakeNews. The rise of fake news and alternative facts largely increased during Trump’s campaign and has continued to be a contentious issue with Trump’s presidency. Wilders followed the strategic yet tasteless use of Twitter, demonstrating the dangerously similar elements of both campaigns.

If an orange face, and platinum hair were the only similarities these two men shared the future of the global political landscape would look much brighter. The concerns posed by the resemblances of Wilders and Trump’s political marketing is far more detrimental than similarities between two politicians. Rather, these commonalities represent a larger change in political marketing, one where the incitement of hatred and distribution of dishonest social media has become normalized.

Written by Alexandra Martin

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