Donald Trump finds hope in British Euroscepticism
FOR those still trying to puzzling out what goes on in Donald Trump’s mind, the tweet the Republican nominee put out at 8am on August 18th was more than usually intriguing: “They’ll soon be calling me MR. BREXIT!”
What did that mean? Was Mr Trump belatedly taking credit for British voters’ decision to leave the European Union, as he had urged them to? Had the strong data British retailers had released that day, which suggested the damage Brexit will do the British economy has been deferred for a bit, inspired his tweet?
Or was Mr Trump, finding comfort in one or two obvious parallels between his angry nativist “movement” and British Euroscepticism, merely vowing to triumph in November as it did in June?
Mr Trump’s history with Brexit suggests he probably didn’t know what he meant either. Even while issuing his advice to Britons to vote for Brexit, he had admitted that he didn’t really understand what it meant. On a trip to one of his Scottish golf course, the day after the British referendum, he further demonstrated that—by claiming that Scots were thrilled to have taken “their country back”. In fact they, unlike the English, had voted to stick with the EU by a big margin.
Yet his identification with the British referendum result was well-judged. Because it seems to have been inspirational for many on the right of American politics, who see in Brexit a convenient, if largely imaginary, validation of their own views.
“It’s what we want, too!” enthused an elderly voter at a recent Trump rally in Pennsylvania. “To defeat Socialism just like you Brits just did with Brexit!” “Brexit—no more, big government, am I right?” winked a friendly Trump fan, on hearing this blogger’s British accent at a Tacos stall at the recent Republican convention in Cleveland.
One of Mr Trump’s defeated rivals for the Republican nomination, Ted Cruz, had drawn enthusiastic cheers from that same convention crowd for offering a similar interpretation of the British vote. It was evidence, he said, of voters the world over “overwhelmingly rejecting the political establishment and overwhelmingly rejecting big government.”
The Brexit vote was not for smaller government. (And if you doubt that, try separating the grey-haired, working-class, disgruntled English voters who were its engine-room from their state pensions, healthcare and winter fuel subsidies.)
But the British verdict was, as Mr Trump’s populist pitch is, two fingers to the political establishment—and to the business, media and academic establishments, too.
Like Trumpism, the British vote was a demand for an simplistic notion of national sovereignty, in which international accommodation is weakness and isolation brings strength.
Like Trumpism, it was a plea from voters left behind by economic change and resentful of social change to turn back the clock. It was, as Trumpism is, in particular a vote against immigration, reviled symbol of the establishment, internationalism and change.
The Brexit cause was fiercely opposed by voters of a sunnier, more forward-looking disposition, as Trumpism is. It wasn’t just that these more optimistic, cosmopolitan Britons, who included Londoners and younger voters, didn’t share the Brexiteers’ world view; many found its xenophobic undertones offensive.
And here’s the rub for Mr Trump. America’s electorate, being slightly younger and much more diverse, has many more of those dissident voters than Britain’s has. And he appears to be doing all that he can to rally them, because his hateful campaign is a lot more offensive than almost anything the Brexiteers dished up.
Until the late stages of the EU referendum campaign, the polls suggested there would be no Brexit. Mr Brexit must hope to find a parallel in that, too: currently trailing Hillary Clinton by seven percentage points, he needs a big surge. It seems unlikely. Yet, notwithstanding the caveats above, there is enough similarity between the British and American moods to suggest it could happen.