Republicans in Sweden still hope for Romney

Republicans in Sweden still hope for Romney
With voters in the United States heading to the polls on Tuesday, Republicans in Sweden reflect on Mitt Romney's chances and the challenges of living in a country that doesn't always appreciate their point of view.

“Everyone here assumes that Republicans are terrible, evil, right-wing extremists,” Swedish MP Mathias Sundin of the Liberal Party (Folkpartiet), told The Local.

Sundin worked on the presidential campaign of Republican senator John McCain in 2008, something which has resulted in him being viewed as a Republican sympathizer in Sweden.

He said openly supporting the US Republican party can make for a “strange existence” in Sweden.

“You get weird questions and are always on the defensive having to explain your views,” he said.

Don Baldwin, an active Republican who has lived in Sweden since 1999, agreed that Swedes aren’t predisposed to Republican views.

“Because Sweden is a socialist country, there is an automatic affinity for the Democrats’ point of view,” he told The Local.

“That being said, Sweden has progressed a lot in the last 20 years and the United States could learn a lot from the pragmatic way Sweden has restructured following the economic crisis of the early 1990s.”

Baldwin, a native of Texas in the United States, came to Sweden in 1999 after being recruited to help run a company’s new business unit.

He explained that most Republicans he knows in Sweden arrived under similar circumstances, describing them as “well-educated professionals who were headhunted to be here to help businesses”.

Swedes, he explains, simply “don’t understand” how the US political and electoral system works, which can also lead to faulty conclusions about both the Republican and Democratic parties.

And while many Swedes seem to support Barack Obama, Baldwin said that, when pressed on why they support the current president, most have a hard time coming up with concrete reasons to explain why.

“I think it mostly stems from a cultural bias toward the views that Obama and the Democrats represent,” he said.

Billy McCormac, a native of California and Republican sympathizer who has lived in Sweden since 1995, agreed that Swedes don’t have a very nuanced understanding of the US Republican party.

“It’s almost a cartoonish view,” he told The Local.

“There is a real lack of appreciation among Swedes for the breadth of views within the Republican party.”

According to McCormac, a public affairs consultant frequently called upon by the Swedish media to explain US politics, Swedes often get hung up on certain Republicans’ positions on social issues such as the death penalty and abortion which stand in stark contrast to views held in Europe.

“Most Swedes have no idea that there is a very strong and active Republican women for choice movement,” he said.

Baldwin agreed that it’s hard for Swedes to fully understand what shapes the views of US voters.

“If you haven’t grown up in the US, you can’t understand our value system,” he said.

“I’d be scared of the US too if all that I knew about it came from what I saw on TV.”

Swedish MP Sundin agreed that it’s easy to understand why Swedes sympathize with Democrats, but also blamed the Swedish media for portraying Republicans unfairly.

“Reporting on Democrats focuses on their accomplishments, while stories about Republicans focus on their views on abortion and the death penalty, for example,” he said.

Since Sundin’s Republican leanings became well known, a number of US Republican expats have confided their political views to him, seeing him as “on their side”.

In comparison to Americans in Sweden who support the Democrats, US Republicans are a bit more muted in displaying their political stripes.

According to McCormac, it may not simply be an attempt to exercise caution in hostile ideological territory, but stems more from a fundamental difference in how Republicans and Democrats view politics.

“For liberals and progressives, politics is closely tied to one’s personal life, while conservatives tend to view politics as means to an ends and thus not something that needs to be celebrated,” he said.

“Conservatives aren’t into political tailgating.”

When asked about Romney’s chances of victory in the November 6th election, McCormac said it “would be close” but that Obama would likely recapture the presidency.

Baldwin described the race as a “toss-up” that wouldn’t likely be decided on election night.

“Lawyers are already lining up in anticipation of a recount. I think it will be at least a few days before we know the winner,” he said.

According to McCormac, a Romney victory, however unlikely, would be “devastating” for most Swedes, and would likely have a negative impact on US-Swedish relations.

“It will be hard for people to swallow. Relations with countries in Europe would sour,” he said.

“It’s hard to imagine Prime Minister Reinfeldt getting invited to the White House for a sit down chat with a President Romney.”

David Landes

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