Santiago Abascal and Spain’s Electric Electoral Slide to the Right

Santiago Abascal, leader of Spain's far-right party Vox

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If there’s something France’s Marine Le Pen, Italy’s Matteo Salvini and the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders can agree on, it’s that the ascendant leader of Spain’s far-right Vox Party, the 43-year-old Santiago Abascal, is the bee’s knees.

With post-Sunday election congratulations pouring in from the aforementioned stars of Europe’s far-right firmament — “Congratulations to Vox!” and “FELICIDADES” from Salvini and Wilders, respectively — the carefully coiffed and camera-slick Abascal has perfectly playbooked populism and anti-migrant sentiments into Vox’s strong showing.

“Just 11 months ago, we weren’t even in any regional legislature in Spain,” Abascal crowed after the fourth national election in four years and second in about seven months. “Today we are the third-largest party in Spain, and the party that has grown the most in votes and seats.”

Abascal, the son of a former pro-Franco politician, is playing the neo-optics of Far Right 101 to perfection.

In real terms, Vox’s seats in parliament have more than doubled from 24 to 52, making it the third leading party in Spain’s Congress of Deputies. Which is to say that, while short of the majority of 176 seats needed to build a government in Spain, it was well in the range of making a big difference. Especially in light of the left-leaning Socialists only pulling down 120 seats — three fewer than they did in April, humbling Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

The trend lines show an even brighter future for Abascal than anyone had any right to believe in 2013, when Vox was born to very little fanfare. Because with fascism not such a distant memory in Spain, where dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco ruled from 1939 to his death in 1975, Abascal, the son of a former pro-Franco politician, is playing the neo-optics of Far Right 101 to perfection.

The married father of four carries a pistol in a country where private gun ownership is heavily restricted. He’s fond of horses and motorcycles, is photogenic as all get-out and supports, unsurprisingly, not only a strong central government but a narrow definition of “us” versus “them.” That means not only an extremely dim view of Catalan separatism, but also a program for the immediate repatriation of nonlegal residents in Spain. A battle he posits as being largely against a “progressive dictatorship” that’s made it possible.

In dog whistle terms, this is because these immigrants create, according to Abascal, “very serious economic and coexistence problems.” (Italics ours.) So with the number of immigrants on the rise — now standing at nearly 6 million, or about 12.8 percent of Spain’s total population — Abascal has started to speak openly about “reconquering” Spain, with threats to both leave the Schengen Area (though not the European Union) and institute other harsher measures to keep Spain Spanish.

Though skirmishes in Barcelona have featured far-right demonstrators screaming, “This is our land and we’ll defend it!”and invoking both Franco and Hitler in what would become running street battles with anti-fascist groups, Abascal feels fully emboldened in calling his party’s recent successes “the greatest political feat seen in Spain.”

It’s a sentiment not shared by Catalan separatist demonstrators who have been blocking motorways or Sánchez and the still-leading Socialists. Despite only losing a few seats this election, they are stuck having to try to make it all work and form a minority government with newly emboldened opposition parties.

So Abascal, with his university degree in sociology, steadies the drumbeat of anti-feminist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-liberal but pro-Spanish nationalist rhetoric. He’s also opposing the Socialist government’s exhumation of Generalissimo Franco, whose tomb has turned into a shrine for fascists.

Still, Vox remains a marginal force in Spain, even as it draws cheers from across Europe’s noisy far right.

Le Pen, the accused inciter of race hatred, says Abascal’s work “is already bearing fruit after only a few years.” Salvini, in a feat of equivocation, declared on Twitter: “Not at all racism and fascism. In Italy as in Spain, we just want to live peacefully in our own home.”

For his part, Abascal is calling for a wall to be built around immigrant influx points in Ceuta and Melilla. To be paid for by? Neighboring Morocco. When asked about his plans in detail, he put a finer point on it in an interview on 7TV Andalucia: “I am a supporter of discrimination.”

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