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Why Trump’s public support for a far-right party in Spain matters

It’s not inherently scandalous that Trump has taken an interest in foreign elections and parties. What matters is which leaders and parties he's backing.


Spain already had a prominent center-right political party called Partido Popular (the PP), but in 2014, some of its more conservative members broke off to form a new, xenophobic alternative called Vox.

As an analysis from a few years ago explained, “Vox shares similarities with other far-right movements in Europe, such as the National Front in France or Alternatives for Deutschland (AfD) in Germany. Vox is anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and skeptical of elements of the EU. It is also very conservative on issues like LGBT rights, abortion and women’s rights.

For a while, it was seen as a fringe entity, but in keeping with recent trends, Vox has made gains. It’s even picked up some international admirers — including a certain former American president who’s comfortable with Vox’s far-right agenda. The Associated Press reported over the weekend:

Former U.S. President Donald Trump threw his weight behind Spain’s far-right Sunday in a video shown at a rally in Madrid that also featured messages by the leading stars of Europe’s populist right like Italy’s Giorgia Meloni and Hungary’s Viktor Orban. In a recording that lasted under 40 seconds made while Trump was on a plane, Trump thanked Spain’s far-right Vox party and its leader Santiago Abascal for what he called the “great job” they do.

Abascal, incidentally, is “a gun-toting politician” who’s “also been endorsed by Steve Bannon.”

Trump's comments were themselves unremarkable. “We have to make sure that we protect our borders and do lots of very good conservative things,” the Republican said. He added that Vox leaders have “many great messages you get out.”

The Gettysburg Address it was not.

But the point isn’t that the former president struggled to ad-lib a brief message. Rather, what matters is the Republican’s increasing interest in influencing international politics.

Indeed, Trump’s recorded comments to Spain’s Vox party come on the heels of his vigorous support for Jair Bolsonaro far-right presidency in Brazil. That came just months after Trump extended his enthusiastic support to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban as he steers his country away from democracy.

And that was preceded by Trump’s endorsement of Polish President Andrzej Duda despite — or perhaps because of — the restrictions Duda had imposed on his country’s judiciary, media, and civil society.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, it’s not inherently scandalous that Trump has taken an interest in foreign elections, leaders, and parties. Other former U.S. presidents have done the same thing: Barack Obama, for example, carefully endorsed France’s Emmanuel Macron in 2017. Two years later, the Democrat voiced similar support for Canada’s Justin Trudeau.

What’s notable about Trump’s efforts are which foreign leaders and parties he chooses to support. You don’t need a doctorate in political science to recognize the common thread tying together the former president’s international endorsements: The Republican likes authoritarians, nationalists and xenophobes.

Yes, other former American presidents have taken related steps, but there’s never been any doubts about leaders such as Macron and Trudeau supporting democracy or democratic values. Each of Trump’s international endorsements tell a different kind of story.