Trump fans are delighted by the outcome of the UK election yesterday. Trump is probably not, but we’ll get to that later.
The reason the Trump fans are pleased is that Boris Johnson is seen as an analog for Trump. With the bad haircut, the well-documented penchant for casually lying, the crass “everyman” persona that hides a well-heeled aristocrat born in New York, a campaign that avoided traditional media appearances, a cutthroat attitude toward his political allies who would dare defy him and a willingness to passively court racists, the comparisons are obvious. The Trump fans are correct; Boris Johnson is effectively the UK’s Trump.
In Johnson’s resounding victory they see a similar outcome for Trump. That’s where they are almost completely wrong.
First, let’s look at Boris’ political history. Much as did Trump, Boris has one; unlike Trump’s, it does not consist of aborted attempts to run for high office and sucking up to established political figures at Jeffrey Epstein’s parties. Boris was a prior MP, a cabinet member, and perhaps most importantly a moderately successful Mayor of London. He has an established history in governance and, while he has some strident views and is a known liar, is not seen as being incompetent and has a record of sometimes placing British interests above his own.
Assuming that Trump had a similar image of competency, it was generated by his stint on The Apprentice and his decades of self-aggrandizement. So, for the sake of argument, let’s place both candidates on a similar level. What we would be seeing is not Trump 2020 – it’s Trump 2016. Even more, it’d be Trump 2016 after he’d been in office for a few months and had nominated Gorsuch to the court, amended the CAFE standard increase, appointed Ajit Pai to the FCC (allowing the death of net neutrality) and announced that Jerusalem was to be the new home of the American Embassy in Israel… without the decisions like initiating tariffs, rolling over for Vladimir Putin, and repeatedly lying about everything from crowd sizes to war efforts.
Boris Johnson has been authoritarian in his purge of all non-followers, which is a concern to many British Tory voters. He has given them ample reason to distrust him. But he’s also demonstrated an effort to keep his key promise (unlike Trump on Obamacare) and that offers them hope that perhaps he won’t do anything insane.
It was against this backdrop that the election happened… and Johnson was given Jeremy Corbyn as an opponent. Corbyn, who vowed to nationalize major industries, institute a mandatory four day workweek, vastly increase spending and who had voiced support for Hamas.
If there is a direct analog for the recent UK election, it is this: “What would a 2016 faceoff between Trump and Bernie Sanders have been like?” The Sanders fans have been insisting for three years that Bernie would have buried Trump, although Hillary couldn’t. In reality, the result would have been similar to what was just seen in the UK. Trump wouldn’t have needed the electoral college; he’d have won conclusively by every metric.
In an election where freedom is a key issue, neither the US nor the UK nor, in fact, nearly any other successful free country wishes to elect a hardline Marxist as their leader.
This election was overwhelmingly about Brexit, and freedom was thus a core issue. Brexit, at its most basic, was framed as being about sovereign status vs. inclusivity. Many Britons wanted both, and were willing to reluctantly accept the original Brexit vote no matter which way it fell. One thing learned from this election was that later revelations of Russia’s pro-Brexit propaganda were not enough to counter the feeling of impropriety with Brexit not being pursued.
What Trump currently brings to the table is not what he did in 2016, nor what Boris brings now. At the time he was a shady businessman that many hoped would grow into the role of a statesman. Trump is now a confirmed and repeated fraud who has diminished his nation’s influence in the world and attacked international freedom while reaping significant personal financial gain. His hope for a 2020 win does not lie in the promise of freedom, because he is not a believable promoter of it. Trump’s campaign is to be based on fear of immigrants and the presentation of the bubble economy as fundamentally solid.
So, no. Boris’ win does not in any way augur a similar victory for Trump.
Corbyn’s failure, however, is likely to be a dagger in the side of the Sanders Presidential campaign, and a knife in the thigh of Elizabeth Warren’s. The utter failure of hard left policy will push Democrat big-money donors toward those who can believably run as centrists, such as Joe Biden and Pete Buttgieg. It is also likely to get left-leaning media outlets and commentators to shift their stance away from Sanders and Warren and toward the centrist wing of the Democrats.
This alone would not be enough to bother Trump.
What likely annoys him about Boris’ win is the NATO meeting last week. During that trip, Johnson specifically requested that Trump not attempt to have a private meeting or joint press event. This was very wise on Johnson’s part; Trump is immensely unpopular in much of the world and in the UK in particular, and associating with him – worse, appearing as his sycophant – could have been enough to swing the election by dozens of seats, possibly even costing them their victory. But Trump is not one to forget perceived offenses, particularly from those he feels are his subordinates. Boris had already presented himself in a subordinate role in the past, and Trump recognizes that he will likely need to do so in the future, as a post-Brexit UK is projected to be dependent on preferential US trade deals for growth. For him to shun Trump, and then to be caught on video mocking Trump alongside other world leaders, has undoubtedly put Boris onto Trump’s personal enemies list despite any of their similarities.