Donald Trump in Europe: Republican front-runner labelled a racist, a clown — and a hero

Donald Trump's tough talk on migration, on Muslims and on Europe’s approach to both is giving the Republican presidential nominee strange but tangible traction on the non-voting side of the Atlantic. And Europe’s political right is leaning way over in admiration.

Europe's political right is leaning way over in admiration while others turn away in disgust

What does Europe think of Donald Trump?

7 years ago
Duration 2:21
International interest in Donald Trump is on the rise, but in Europe fascination now competes with fear.

Donald Trump's proposed border wall with Mexico may be ridiculed in North America. But in some parts of Europe, in some circles, it is lauded as towering brilliance.

Granted, it was a European country — Hungary — that inaugurated the idea of keeping out asylum-seekers by erecting, in record time, a three-and-a-half-metre-high fence along the border. That's admired in those circles too.

But as hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers continue to land on Europe's shores, and as an opposing sentiment rises, for some, Trump's sturdy wall can't be built here quickly enough.

The Republican leadership contender's tough talk on migration, on Muslims, and on Europe's approach to both, is giving Trump strange but tangible traction on the non-voting side of the Atlantic.

Europe's political right is leaning way over in admiration.

In addition to the vigorous nods from the politically alienated, Trump has managed to get pats on the back from nationalist, right-of-centre stalwarts like France's Jean-Marie Le Pen, the Netherlands' Geert Wilders and, beyond, from Russian President Vladimir Putin — more on that later.

"The immigration issue and the position he's taken on Mexico, you know, it resonates with many on the European continent," says Peter Trubowitz, director of the London School of Economics' United States Centre.

"They're worried about immigration, worried about refugees and it's probably no surprise that Le Pen endorsed Donald Trump."

It's also his practised populism that is earning Trump his Euro-points. Not to mention his willingness to say what only a handful of politicians here are saying on Europe's biggest challenge in decades.

Over here, too, it's been hard to look away from the Trump circus. And harder still since Tuesday.

Media have succumbed en masse to the relish of stories like the L'Oreal snub (after they apparently refused to make his cologne), or an Irish spat (over another wall he wants to build — to help shore up a golf course he owns in the country).

Europe's political right is cheering on Donald Trump for his take-no-prisoners attitude, while others on the continent are cringing. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Political cartoons are common, and often there is indeed some reference to his hair — and most recently, his hands.

But the appeal goes beyond the kind of voyeurism attached to such a big, bombastic American personality.

Rarely have the conditions (the migration crisis) and the personalities in the U.S. and Europe coincided in such a way to produce such attention, synergy and contempt all at once.

And seldom in recent times has an American figure so antagonized the European establishment.

For all those reasons, rarely has a prospective U.S. presidential contender — the closest perhaps being George W. Bush on his second run for the Oval Office — been as savagely criticized as Trump on European soil at such an early stage in the nomination process.

'Fascinated but appalled'

The very attributes that endear Trump to Europe's populists are those that turn others away in disgust.

He is "a clown, a demagogue and a racist," according to Mario Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian author who won the Nobel Prize in 2010.

The mainstream press takedowns have been no less articulate, even as Trump-the-nominee inches closer to reality.

A front-page headline in France's Libération newspaper last month described him as "the big idiot on the rise."

"When it comes to Trump, Europe is apoplectic. Fascinated but appalled," says Katty Kay, a BBC host based in Washington.
A February cover of the French daily Libération featured U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump, under a headline that reads 'the big idiot on the rise.' (Courtesy of Libération)

After Trump's Super Tuesday advances, the derision was only lightly painted with pragmatism: Germany's Handelsblatt newspaper said "what looked grotesque must now be discussed seriously."

"Crazy has gone pro," Erich McElroy, an American comedian based in the U.K., wrote for The Independent.

For his part, Trump seems to almost enjoy thumbing his nose in Europe's direction while articulating his vision and fears for the home front.

Super Tuesday comments cheered

He's taken on everyone from the Pope, to German Chancellor Angela Merkel — unsurprisingly, calling her decision to allow asylum-seekers entry a "tragic mistake" that could mark "the end of Europe," drawing the applause of her critics.

(Strangely, the only thing Trump currently has in common with those two is that they've all apparently been nominated for the 2016 Nobel Peace prize.)
Trump also appeared on the cover of popular German magazine Der Spiegel last month. This headline reads: 'Madness: America's agitator Donald Trump.' (Courtesy of Der Spiegel)

Trump told a French magazine that "France is not what it used to be, and neither is Paris." He's also gone after London and Paris for having areas where police are too afraid to go. He's likened Brussels to a "hellhole," because of a lack of assimilation of Muslims. And in comments on Super Tuesday, he took another potshot that nationalists here applauded.

"We have a big, big problem. Radical Islamic terrorism. Big problem," he said. "You take a look at Germany, you take a look at Sweden, you take a look at Brussels. Some of these places, it's like a disaster!"

More isolationist America?

The establishment isn't impressed. And one of the most bothersome pokes-in-the-eye is Trump's ongoing (and mutual) admiration of Putin.

"Fundamentally that's very worrisome to Europeans," says Jacob Parakilas, assistant head of the U.S. and the Americas program at London's Chatham House. "Because up until now, the United States has largely stood shoulder to shoulder with Europeans against Russia, which is resurgent.

"The potential for 'President' Donald Trump, who actually sees more in common with Putin than with perhaps (U.K. Prime Minister David) Cameron or Merkel, is frightening."

It also doesn't help that Trump seems to repeatedly question the transatlantic relationship, raising fears in Europe about a more isolationist America.

All that, and his bombastic style, also do little for the U.S. image among Europeans, says Parakilas.

"Trump is, in some respects, the ultimate caricature of the ugly American in European eyes," he says. "But as Trump becomes more of a serious contender … I think you'll see an increasing attempt among Europeans to accommodate the idea of a President Trump and what it would mean and to start thinking through how Europe would respond."

Trump's practiced populism, including his stance on immigration, is earning the U.S. presidential contender points in Europe, at least for some. (Ferenc Isza/AFP/Getty)


Nahlah Ayed

Host of CBC Ideas

Nahlah Ayed is the host of the nightly CBC Radio program Ideas. A veteran of foreign reportage, she's spent nearly a decade covering major world events from London, and another decade covering upheaval across the Middle East. Ayed was previously a parliamentary reporter for The Canadian Press.

With files from Tracy Seeley