AMAC Exclusive By Daniel Roman
For decades, conservatives globally have struggled to win elections in big cities–yet today, when voters in Madrid, Spain cast their ballots, they may well send shockwaves through the country’s political class and alarm left-wing parties around the world by voting to elect “Spain’s Trump” by historic margins. A victory by Isabel Diaz Ayuso could foreshadow a new and unexpected dimension of the “Great Realignment” and pose the question: Could conservatives be figuring out how to win the cities?
Madrid may seem an odd place for such a revolt to begin. It is wealthy, a national capital, and has a young population, with almost 20% being of foreign origin. Yet, today, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, “Spain’s Trump,” appears set to triumph in early regional elections, in what will be the first step on a path likely to take her to national power. In the process, she will show that Conservatism can win urban cities if it is made both “modern” and “fun.”
As this series following the “Great Realignment” has chronicled, the world is witnessing a historic shift of minority and working-class voters to conservative parties. While this is often occurring in rural areas, there is no reason why conservatives might not be able to win in cities with this new coalition as well.
Hitherto in the series, something of a pattern has formed. In response to the Left’s descent into extreme identity politics, traditional constituencies who in the past backed left-wing parties for economic or historical reasons have begun turning on them. Whether it is Hispanic voters in America, working-class voters in the UK, or Arab voters in Israel, they have deserted left-wing parties as progressives pivoted from a platform of economic empowerment to messaging which stresses that their voters’ social disadvantage is structural and natural. Their former supporters have instead voted for conservative candidates and parties who tell them that rather than being a result of structural racism and oppression, they are being harmed by the Left’s bad policy choices and corruption.
But what of the “other half”? If the Left is losing the working class, the hard-working immigrant, the minority group that wants politicians to stop blaming racism for why their schools are bad and actually fix them, the Left must be appealing to someone. In America, that has been what Obama’s campaign strategist arrogantly dubbed the “coalition of the ascendent.” Loosely speaking, these are voters with college degrees, preferably post-graduate ones, who live in urban areas or inner suburbs. In 2020, Joe Biden’s greatest gains relative to the national average came in states with large populations of this sort of voter. Virginia and Colorado, both of which have among the highest percentage of college graduates in the nation, went from voting for Hillary Clinton by around 5% each in 2016 to voting for Joe Biden by 10% and 14%, respectively. And Georgia, regardless of who won a race so close that it was statistically a coin flip, Biden’s gains were driven by success among professionals in Atlanta.
A similar pattern existed in the UK with the Brexit vote. London, always slightly left-leaning, has moved massively to the Left in response to Brexit. Boris Johnson, the current Prime Minister, was able to win mayoral elections in both 2008 and 2012. Despite a poor campaign, Conservative Zac Goldsmith still managed 43.2% of the vote in 2016. This year the Conservative candidate, Shaun Bailey, will be lucky to break 39%.
Even those on the Right who welcome the defection of working-class voters seem to concede the inevitability of more educated and wealthier voters’ shift to the Left. Those on the Left pouring over recent election results in search of solace console themselves with the conviction that “conservatives cannot win urban voters.”
Enter Madrid. Madrid is, on paper, the last place anyone would expect the Great Realignment to occur. It is not only the capital of Spain but Spain’s richest region. It has the highest number of university graduates in Spain. It has one of the youngest populations, only 18.9% of whom identify as practicing Catholics. If this sounds like Atlanta or Northern Virginia, well, that wouldn’t be far off. Except in terms of politics.
Since the 2019 elections, Madrid has been governed by Isabel Diaz Ayuso, a member of Spain’s center-right People’s Party. While the People’s Party has been conventional, the tenure of Ayuso, who has been described as “Spain’s Trump,” is anything but. After the 2019 regional elections, where her party came second with 23% of the vote, Ayuso came under enormous pressure to allow the Socialists to form a government with support from the far-left Communist Podemos party rather than cooperating with the “Far-Right” Vox. Vox, which opposes Islamic immigration, was “beyond the pale,” and even though a center-right majority existed if Vox was included. Vox was willing to support such a government without receiving any offices in return; Ayuso was lectured that such a course was “anti-democratic”. She ignored this pressure and took office with a majority of a single vote, only to be denounced as fascist by Spain’s Socialist leader. Rather than cowering, Ayuso has hit back and continued to do so, remarking recently that “When they call you a fascist, you are on the right side of history.”
The history Ayuso was on the right side of happened to be COVID-19 policy. In defiance of the central government, Madrid refused to order a full lockdown, remaining open. As visitors from across Europe flocked to Madrid’s open cafes and restaurants, the Spanish government sought to declare martial law, only to have Ayuso and the local government take them to court and overturn the new laws as an infringement on local freedoms. Having failed to oust her through legal means, Spain’s coalition of Socialists and Communists placed enormous pressure on deputies from the centrist Citizen’s party to undermine her one-seat majority. To foreclose that move, Ayuso dissolved the Assembly and called early elections for today, May 4th, 2021.
By all appearances, Ayuso is riding high. Her People’s Party won 23% in 2019 but is consistently polling over 40%, and the only question is whether it wins a majority on its own. The national implications have become obvious to everyone. Ayuso took office, challenging the national consensus, including the leaders of her own party against working with Vox. She subsequently emerged as the effective leader of the opposition to the left-wing government’s COVID policies. No better evidence exists of the national implications of Madrid’s election than the fact that Pablo Iglesias, the deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Communist Podemos party, resigned in order to lead his party in the Madrid elections. Ayuso welcomed his entry, not least because it signaled his departure from national politics, and proclaimed that the election represented a choice between “Communism or Freedom.” That line has quickly become her campaign slogan.
For her opponents, the choice is “Democracy or Fascism,” and they have accused Ayuso of everything from encouraging death threats against politicians–despite having faced numerous threats of violence herself–to contributing to the polarization of Spain in a way that risks a second civil war. So far, their efforts against her seem to have failed. The opposition is far behind, and the Socialists seem in danger of falling into third place behind the “Yuppie-oriented” Mas Madrid.
Ironically, if her critics were truly worried about “fascism,” they would pray for her to win a majority on her own, which would free Ayuso from the need to rely on Vox. While far from the dangerous threat painted by the left, the party is eccentric and mildly embarrassing, with leaders prone to dressing up as 16th-century conquistadors as if they were extras from a Don Quixote performance. No doubt Ayuso would find life easier, if slightly more boring, without them.
The Socialists and their allies further to the Left are not thinking about Madrid, however. They are far more concerned with their own position in Spain as a whole. Since 2015 Spanish politics has been trapped in a deadlock between Left and right, with only the unwillingness of Catalonian separatists to allow a right-wing government keeping the Left in office. A decisive shift to the Right in Madrid would break that deadlock nationally. If Ayuso wins a majority, more than doubling her support since 2019, her next destination is obvious. She will begin making plans to move across the street and take over the Prime Minister’s residence. Spain’s leaders know that the “Spanish Trump” is coming for them, and everything they do indicates they realize there is little that can stop her.
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