Populism isn't so popular after all

In the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson’s prime ministership, premised on Brexit at all costs, is teetering. In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu is two weeks from an election that may or may not return him to power, but he appears to be in a slow political decline either way. In Italy, Matteo Salvini’s stratagem to seize power has, at least for now, been derailed by a coalition that opposes him. And in the United States, President Donald Trump is barely a year away from facing voters, with the economy shaky and his approval rating still mired in negative territory.

For the past several years, these politicians have been leading exponents of what observers have labeled a populist moment, as right-wing nationalist leaders, claiming a mandate from a previously silent majority, grabbed power in capitals around the globe. In Britain, they also captured a surprise victory in the Brexit referendum.

But their recent struggles suggest that populism is not so popular after all. Each of these leaders may survive, but he will do so with minority support. For a movement whose premise was that there were great, untapped wells of popular support waiting to be tapped, and waiting for the strong leadership of a charismatic leader, this is a cold dose of reality.