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Might Estonia spawn its own homespun Donald Trump?

Donald Trump. PHOTO: Reuters/ScanPix

Estonian experts don't think a local campaign could get as ugly and insulting as Donald Trump is engine for right now in the US. Meanwhile, similar traits arising is an option.

During the past half year, the Republican candidate Donald Trump has managed to basically hijack the entire rally and media.

While initially the press was all but ironic about this eccentric billionaire known from «The Apprentice» and always seeking for a chance to despise some minority, by and by they were alerted to the danger.  

Same was true for other candidates. As Mr Trump got going in the primaries, they sobered up soon. The political and media mainstream was worriedly surprised to see the man beat the more reasonable-styles rivals who a few years back were considered likely to lead the GOP camp.

Most horrifying for the US and the world has been Mr Trump’s way of insulting someone in almost every presentation and speech – from migrants to Muslims to women. Same said towards political competitors. By now, it’s gotten to the wives of candidates.

First and foremost, the rest of the world is worried by statements by Mr Trump about the economy which don’t bode well for the US and the trade partners. Also, his utterances regarding security have raised eyebrows in Estonia and Eastern Europe.

Example for others

Whether Mr Trump wins or not, he has succeeded in substantially altering future campaigns over the whole world. Surely, there are politicians who would like to follow suit. Therefore, Postimees asked the local experts of political communication and campaigning if a party could actually want to Trump in Estonia.

A PR figure Ott Lumi says there’s no direct impact while political communication is sure to be changed. «Like the initial campaign by [Barack] Obama marked breakthrough of social media in political campaigns,» said Mr Lumi.

A Reform campaign master Annika Arras says certain elements might stick. Former IRL secretary-general Tiit Riisalo agrees and adds that the scene is always changing.

Would any party adopt the Trum-style insulting communication style? Ms Arras thinks this would not work in Estonia. «Lots of things allowable in the USA aren’t over here. The broad stokes insulting and impolite would not run long in Estonia. But here’s plenty of room for slogans and populism,» said Ms Arras.

Mr Riisalo says there’s more labelling in Estonian political communication by now while the style is largely up to the public.

 Key to Mr Trump’s campaign has been the offering of simplistic solutions. Which have never eaten into his popularity – rather the opposite.

«Politicians taking such extreme stands are also presenting lots of conspiracy theories and these are awful easy to sell to simple people,» sad Ms Arras. She said such politicians will also take advantage of media mocking them. «It’s the same agenda which one man uses very well around here,» added Ms Arras, referring to Centre head Edgar Savisaar.

Who’d fill Tump shoes?

In Estonian context it’d probably be the leader-centred Centre of EKRE with views pretty similar to Mr Trump’s.

Ott Lumi says Estonia had its «Trump» already, to a degree. «It’s nothing new really, thinking for instance of MEP campaign in 2009 by Indrek Tarand with the same elements,» said Mr Lumi.

Mr Lumi went on to point out the xenophobic, religious etc elements with Mr Trump as aiming at low emotions in hearers. Which could fit EKRE while for Russian speaking voters of Centre religious topics do matter.

One think Mr Trump is to be praise for is awakening the voters who bothered not to for years. These are those simply not addressed by the politically correct talk of mainstream politicians. And Estonia has these too.

Meanwhile, Estonia has no billionaire with years of reality show behind his belt. But it’s different here anyway.

Asked about a specific individual, Ms Arras and Mr Riisalo take some time to think. Mr Riisalo mentions some names but asks us to not print them. He says the somewhat unusual father and son duo Mart and Martin Helme might perhaps have the effect.

How to break an all-out populist?

In the USA, Mr Trump remains unbroken by other GOP candidates. Mr Lumi thinks it is actually hard to answer such populist campaigns. «Here, the media doubtless carries a vital role to create the background of what is credible and what isn’t,» said Mr Lumi. Also very popular in the US is checking the facts executed by all media outlets, often even during the large TV debates.

Ms Arras would opt for the strategy quietly adopted by Hillary Clinton. «Psychologically, people can be united if they are against something. I would paint a picture of the Trump America. I’d show what would happen with economy and jobs if his ideas are carried out – and it would not be a pretty picture,» explained Ms Arras. «I would definitely describe how foreign relations would be altered. No Estonian wants to feel ashamed for his country before foreigners. The pride surfaces when foreign media covers us in good light.»

But could Estonia be faced with a Trump-like campaign? The ideas could definitely feature, think the experts. «It has in Hungary, in Slovakia, in Poland. Why not here?» asks Mr Riisalo. With such sharpness? Probably not but who knows.