“We have a saying in Germany,” I was once told: “When America sneezes, Europe catches a cold.” As I watched Spain’s prime ministerial debate live on television Monday night, I heard plenty of American sneezes, and just as many Spanish coughs.
The televised debate featured the country’s sitting leftist prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, alongside his center-right counterpart, Alberto Feijóo. Notably absent was the third-party candidate, labeled “far right” by Spain’s establishment media and most of the world’s, Santiago Abascal.
As Abascal noted in an Instagram post, “these two can’t stop talking about me, and yet they won’t let me participate in the debate.” Thus, the first parallel I noticed between Spanish and American retail politics: even if Trump is knocked out in the primaries, the Left will never let him go. They will invoke the ex-president’s name and use it to attack the Republicans, no matter which candidate its voters nominate. No matter how polite, no matter how many tax returns he or she submits for audit, nobody will be sufficiently anti-MAGA to douse the flames of the Left’s performative indignation.
Sánchez then went on to say, in words strikingly familiar to those of us on this side of the Atlantic pond, that the Partido Popular (the rough equivalent of America’s GOP) was taking away Spaniards’ fundamental rights—the code phrase for policies regarding abortion, euthanasia, and gender identity. As in America, the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party paints itself as the guarantor of a new normal that is continually being pushed leftward.
Now enter the biggest problem for Trump or his successor as GOP presidential nominee, to be dress rehearsed by the Spaniards who go to the polls on July 23: How does the center-right candidate, in this case Alberto Feijóo, who carries himself with a decorum reminiscent of the ill-fated Mormon Mitt Romney, court moderates without alienating the Spain-firsters of the Right? In the American context, imagine, if you will, a “moderate” GOP president post-Biden who can’t rely on the votes of, say, Matt Gaetz on immigration reform and you get the idea.
Feijóo’s attempt at triangulation has no exact corollary in American politics, but it was illustrative all the same. If you’re so terrified of the far Right, Feijoo taunted Sánchez on live television, then sign this piece of paper that says that, if I win a plurality of the votes, your party will not block my investiture as president. If you win the plurality, I will do the same.
Feijóo’s ploy was to conjure a scenario in which he would pledge not to enlist Abascal’s “far Right” to block another Sánchez presidency, but only if Sánchez would make a similar pledge not to enlist Spain’s far Left, composed of Communists and separatists from Spain’s Basque and Catalan regions. Sánchez, of course, refused, making him look like a hypocrite, more concerned with his political survival than with saving his country from the supposed forces of fascism.
There may be no cure for the democratic West’s common cold, but Spain’s Feijóo may have pointed us to a vaccine: show American voters that Biden is more beholden to the far Left than to an illusory and ever-shifting definition of political “normalcy,” and maybe the Right can win.
Photo by Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images