After the Dutch election on March 15, both Dutch and international media delivered a unanimous verdict: Prime Minister Mark Rutte had “won the election.”  Rutte’s Liberal Party “won” by losing eight seats, while his coalition partner, the Labour Party, suffered an historic loss of 29 seats.  Geert Wilders, on the other hand, “lost” because his anti-immigration Freedom Party ended up with 20 seats, a gain of five from 2012.  European elites from Brussels to Berlin heaved a great sigh of relief.  The populist dominos, set in motion by Brexit and Donald Trump, had been stopped.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel even thanked the Dutch for their vote.

The media’s fixation on Geert Wilders obscures what ought to be the most striking result from the Dutch general election: The Liberal-Labour coalition government, which pursued tough fiscal policies and produced economic growth, was destroyed.  The coalition started its five-year tenure with 79 of the 150 seats in Parliament.  The two parties combined now have 41.  In any other election, this would have been called a blowout loss.  Instead of celebrating, Prime Minister Rutte would hand in his resignation.  But in 2017 the European ruling class has changed the definition of success.  “Winning” means keeping the populists out.  So Mark Rutte “won.”

Rutte’s Liberal Party probably would have performed even worse if President Erdogan of Turkey had not provoked a confrontation with the Dutch government.  In the weekend before the election, Erdogan attempted to send his family-affairs minister to Holland to campaign on behalf of a Turkish constitutional referendum that would give him near-dictatorial powers.  The 400,000 Turks residing in the Netherlands represent potential “Yes” voters in the April referendum.  Prime Minister Rutte ordered Dutch police to intercept the motorcade of the family-affairs minister and deport her.  This prompted Erdogan to call the Dutch government “Nazis.”  When 2,000 Turks rioted in Rotterdam to protest the government’s decision, Rutte responded with water cannons and dogs.  The televised images of Dutch police cracking Turkish heads probably gained four seats for Rutte.

The riots in Rotterdam also helped another political party, Denk.  Formed by two Turkish members of Parliament who deserted the Labour Party in 2014, Denk won three seats.  Denk explicitly represents the interests of Turkish and Moroccan Muslims in the Netherlands.  The party’s platform proposes a 1,000-man antiracism police force, a “Racism Register,” and a prohibition on government employment for anyone on the “Racism Register.”  Denk also wants reeducation courses for those Dutch who hold incorrect attitudes about immigrants.  Street, tunnel, and bridge names must be “decolonialized.”  The Admiral De Ruyter Tunnel, for example, would have to be renamed, because this 17th-century naval hero—who sailed up the Thames and burned the British fleet in 1666—participated in the Dutch colonial adventure.  In addition, Denk wants a ten-percent hiring quota for immigrants imposed on all Dutch firms.  If Denk were to prevail, all schools would be required to offer Turkish and Arabic language instruction.

While every other political party in the Netherlands backed Rutte in his confrontation with Erdogan, Denk refused to support the Dutch government.  The day after the election the Dutch television news program Journaal visited open marketplaces in Rotterdam.  The reporter talked to several Turks who said that they had voted for Denk because of the way the Dutch police have treated their people.  Turkish nationalism is growing in the Netherlands, and the implications are ominous.  With a growing Muslim population, Denk will grow too.

The annihilation of the Labour Party remains the single most striking development of this election.  Labour dropped from 38 seats in Parliament to nine.  Given Labour’s historic performance, the election result seems almost unfair.  The Labour Party helped create the successful postwar Dutch economic and social model.  A Labour prime minister, Willem Drees, dominated Dutch politics from 1945 to 1960.  Under his leadership, the Labour Party always commanded a third of the popular vote and could count on 50 seats in Parliament.  Drees directed three stable political coalitions with the Christian Democrats, which produced the “social market” system.  Drees’s Labour successors followed the same path and played the same central role.  But like the Democratic Party in the United States, Labour fell apart.

The unraveling of the Labour Party can be traced to the 1990’s when Labour formed a coalition with the left-liberal Democrats 66 (D66) and the Liberals.  During this period the Labour Party embraced multiculturalism and political correctness.  Questioning mass immigration was taboo.  As economic globalization increased, the Dutch economy profited, and Labour jumped on board the globalization train.  As a result, the party began to appeal to more college-educated, higher-earning Dutch in urban areas.  It also began to court immigrant voters.  A similar process was taking place in the Labour Party in Britain and the Democratic Party in the United States.

When Labour Party intellectual Pim Fortuyn moved to Rotterdam in the 1990’s, he discovered that the immigration and trade policies of his party had harmed the rank and file.  Leaving the Labour Party behind, Fortuyn marched into the 2002 elections with a nationalist and anti-Muslim immigrant platform.  The Dutch working- and middle-class voters who had traditionally voted Labour defected to Fortuyn, and the Labour Party suffered a massive loss at the polls.  Only Fortuyn’s assassination prevented the complete marginalization of Labour.

In 2012 Labour briefly recovered with 38 seats by positioning itself as the progressive alternative to the right-wing Liberals under the leadership of Mark Rutte.  But the issues that prompted Fortuyn’s revolt in 2002 remained unresolved.  This became painfully obvious in the fall of 2016 when Jacques Monasch ran for Labour Party chairman.  Monasch argued that the Labour Party ignored the needs of non-college-educated workers and was doing nothing to deal with growing inequality.  He demanded a limit on the number of asylum-seekers entering Holland.  In a sign of things to come, Monasch lost the leadership race and promptly left the Labour Party.  During the election campaign, the parties on the left—D66, the Greens, and the Socialist Party—pounded Labour for its cuts to social-service programs.  Geert Wilders attacked Labour for favoring immigrants over Dutch workers.  The Liberal Party did not suffer as much because its base expected a tough fiscal policy.  But Labour’s course proved fatal.

My Dutch colleague Natanja Vreugdenhil noted that the Labour Party has become a party of elites that no longer represents the working-class people it pretends to represent.  It is hard to see how it could ever get back to its former glory.  Geert Wilder’s Freedom Party has strong support from working- and middle-class Dutch who used to vote Labour.  Voters concerned about inequality can vote for the Socialist Party, an old-fashioned left-wing organization.  High-income, highly educated voters in Amsterdam and Rotterdam are moving to D66 or to the Green Party.  The Dutch Labour Party has experienced the lesson that  Hillary Clinton and the Democrats should have learned last November: A party of financial and academic elites pushing globalization, multiculturalism, and large-scale immigration will find it next to impossible to keep the working and middle classes in their coalition.  It only takes a strong populist leader like Fortuyn, Wilders, or Trump to blow it up.

After a Dutch general election, the party with the largest number of seats in Parliament starts the negotiations to form the next government.  In this case, “victor” Mark Rutte will seek partners for his Liberal Party.  The most logical coalition partners are the Christian Democrats and the left-liberal D66, both of which gained seats and now have 19 each in the new Parliament.  The three parties together would have 71 seats.  But to get to a majority—76 seats—Rutte would have to find a fourth party.

One option would be to talk to the Christian Union, an evangelical Protestant party with five seats.  The CU shares most of the economic views of the Liberal government.  Rutte would prefer to add the CU to the coalition.  But the Christian Union and D66 are already at each other’s throats over a D66 proposal to liberalize the euthanasia law.  A coalition might fall over that issue alone.

For that reason, D66 is pushing for a coalition with the Green Party.  D66 and the Green Party have both grown at the expense of the Labour Party.  They won 19 and 14 seats respectively, a gain of 17 seats in total.  D66 is a party of well-educated, high earners.  The party stands for liberal immigration laws, a globalized economy, social radicalism, and a strong European Union.  Historically, D66 has exerted an influence out of proportion to its numbers on any coalition in which it has participated.  Both D66 and the Greens push an aggressive secularism with little regard for Christian values that get in the way of its pro-abortion and LGBT agenda.  A coalition with the Christian Democrats and Liberals is likely to be stormy.

Mark Rutte must know that the issues that caused his coalition’s terrible election performance remain unresolved.  The Dutch are still recovering, both financially and emotionally, from the crash of 2008.  Working- and middle-class Dutch fear for the future of their jobs.  The Muslim asylum-seeker invasion continues.  The Dutch distrust the E.U.  They hate the euro.  Mark Rutte also knows that Holland has never had a four-party coalition.  Rutte led a government that booked some tangible economic success but was punished at the polls anyway.  Why would he want to try it again with a four-party coalition?  Why not let the left form a five- or six-party coalition and then pick up the pieces when it inevitably collapses?

Where does this leave Geert Wilders, the “loser”?  He has no choice but to wait.  Both Rutte and all the parties on the left have ruled out a coalition with him.  Nevertheless, his issues are driving the Dutch political agenda.  The next coalition, whether led by the Liberals or by the left, will be unstable.  Wilders can expect it to fall, and its collapse will be followed by another general election in which he will again be the central figure—not a bad position for someone who just “lost” an election.