- - Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Political trends, like the common cold, are contagious. Revolutions are often not confined to one country. The Communist revolution in Russia soon spread across the first half of the 20th century. The rise of fascism occurred in tandem across wide swaths of the world.

The period beginning in our own century might loosely be called the Age of Populism, unless it disappears as quickly as it became a fad to entertain the millennials.

Gallup now says 4 in 10 Americans have embraced populism, perhaps not knowing everything about populism. The list of nations that have seen the birth of populist movements is a long one, including the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Poland, Israel, Hungary, the Philippines, Mexico, India, and Brazil. Ten thousand miles away from America, a populist revolution has exploded in Australia.

Scott Morrison won his first full term as prime minister of Australia, confounding expectations that the country’s voters were ready for a change after six years of tumultuous leadership. The pollsters had confidently predicted that Mr. Morrison would go down to the Labor Party with nary a whimper. All that was left for the leader of the Labor opposition, Bill Shorten, was to prepare to take the oath.

But Australia’s “quiet voters,” as the prime minister called them, had a different idea. Mr. Morrison’s victory — his Liberal party is in fact the small-c conservative party in Australia — took an outright majority in parliament. The prime minister declared his victory was “a miracle.” The Labor Party leader will now resign his party leadership given how badly he flubbed what was supposed to be a slam-dunk. Back to square one.

Australian voters rallied to the prime minister’s bold, Trump-like message. Long an opponent of uncontrolled immigration, he ran on a platform of immigration relief, relief from punitive environmental laws, and a general cultural message that he would protect traditional values from the elites of Sydney and Melbourne. He promised to keep taxes low and fight against redistribution schemes. “The Australian election was a referendum on taxation, wealth redistribution and climate change,” the Sydney Morning Herald observed, and Scott Morrison was for all the right things.

Why would Australia, “the lucky country,” with abundant natural resources, enjoying more than two decades of economic growth, go “populist?” As elsewhere, the left went too far, too far with environmental restrictions, taxes and runaway immigration. Labor did all the wrong things. The opposition doubled down on destructive environmental policy, promising a 45 percent reduction in carbon emissions that by its own estimates would have cost Australia more than 150,000 jobs. That gave Mr. Morrison an opening to run as the champion of Australians who “work hard every day, who have their dreams and their aspirations, to get a job, to get an apprenticehip, to start a business, start a family, buy a home, work hard and provide the best you can for your kids.” Running as the champion of the ordinary bloke is always a good strategy. Running as the party that promises to put you out of work (a message Hillary Clinton embraced in conversations with the coal miners of West Virginia in 2016), usually, not to put too fine a point on it, does not work well.

The most successful populist politicians have the insight that most people — particularly people in successful countries — tend to be conservative by nature, and they look to politicians who seek to preserve and conserve, rather than transform. They don’t want a government that upends their way of life. For all of their bluster, populists tend to bring a message of restoration. They’ll make things more like the good old days. Aspiring politicians elsewhere, take note.

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