Geert Wilders, Reclusive Provocateur, Rises Before Dutch Vote

“The Netherlands is kind of a bellwether, a lot of trends manifest themselves here first,” said Hans Anker, a Dutch political strategist who has worked both in the Netherlands and the United States.

“I wouldn’t rule out that Wilders could be prime minister,” he added. “This one is fundamentally unpredictable.”

Remarkably, Mr. Wilders, 53, has managed to build a movement despite his infrequent public appearances. Living under threat since the police discovered plots against him in 2004 has turned him into a politician ahead of his time, using the internet and later social media to talk to voters without the filter of journalists.

It has proved a particularly effective means of reaching disillusioned citizens. Other politicians have followed his lead but almost none have done it as effectively, Dutch experts said.

“He’s the most strategic, smartest politician out there,” said Sarah de Lange, a political science professor at the University of Amsterdam. “He’s very skilled. He’s a very good debater. He has media savvy. Internationally, he’s compared to Trump. But with Wilders every tweet is thought through, calculated. With Trump it’s emotional.”

Right now Mr. Wilders’s party looks set to win more seats than any other or to come in second. However, he has historically polled better before elections than he has performed in them. Still, after pollsters underestimated the likelihood of both Brexit and the victory of Donald Trump last year, no one is relying on predictions.

But whether Mr. Wilders’s party wins the most votes, or enters a government, hardly matters. He has already succeeded in one of his main ambitions — to push politics in the Netherlands to the right and make possible a conversation about shutting out immigrants and dismantling the European Union that was unthinkable not long ago.

Mr. Wilders is…

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