UK election results a harbinger of what's to come in US: Trump

VIDEO: REUTERS
US President Donald Trump (left) is eager to replicate British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's win, in next year's American election. PHOTO: NYTIMES
US President Donald Trump (above) is eager to replicate British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's win, in next year's American election. PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON • After a tumultuous tenure in office, a controversial candidate expanded his grip on power, surpassing a weak opponent and drawing support from unlikely pockets of voters.

That was what happened on Thursday in Britain, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative Party claimed a commanding majority in Parliament, sidelining far-left Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

It is the same scenario US President Donald Trump is eager to replicate in next year's American election and Democrats are desperate to avoid.

After congratulating Mr Johnson on Friday, Mr Trump said of the British results: "I think that might be a harbinger of what's to come in our country."

Others cautioned against drawing too many lessons from the British elections.

Despite deep historical and cultural ties, the United States and United Kingdom have vastly different demographics and systems of government.

The contours of the 2020 presidential election are also still evolving, with Democrats choosing between moderates and liberals, experienced politicians and fresh faces, as they weigh who will take on Mr Trump.

Still, there are striking parallels, as well as recent precedent, in the political landscape on both sides of the Atlantic.

In 2016, British voters stunningly decided in a national referendum to withdraw from the European Union, ignoring dire warnings from political elites about the economic and cultural consequences. Four months later, American voters did the same, sending Mr Trump to the White House over establishment favourite Hillary Clinton.

 
 
 
 

Mr Johnson faced last week's campaign with significant liabilities, as will Mr Trump next year. Their terms in office have been punctuated by chaos and controversy, including setbacks for Mr Johnson in Parliament and the looming impeachment vote and trial against Mr Trump in Congress.

But in their own ways, Mr Trump and Mr Johnson have also proved to be effective communicators and advocates for their priorities, forgoing complex policy proposals for bumper-sticker slogans.

For Mr Trump, it is "Make America Great Again" and "Build the Wall". Mr Johnson campaigned in the election on a pledge to "Get Brexit Done" - a straightforward slogan that belies the complex negotiations still to come with the EU.

"It's simplicity and it's connecting to something at an emotional level that somebody believes in - whether it's true or not," said Ms Heather Conley, a former State Department official and current Europe scholar at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

In the US, some took Labour's stinging defeat under Mr Corbyn's leadership as a warning for more liberal American presidential candidates such as Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

Mr Joe Biden, a more moderate 2020 hopeful, predicted the takeaway from the British results would be "look what happens when the Labour Party moves so, so far to the left. It comes up with ideas that are not able to be contained within a rational basis quickly".

Other Democrats argued that opponents of Mr Johnson and the British exit from the EU did not do enough to make an affirmative case for their own vision.

"I'm just not convinced that the Democrats are making the case as of right now as to why Donald Trump doesn't deserve to be re-elected," said Mr Boyd Brown, a Democratic strategist based in South Carolina.

Mr Johnson also successfully framed his campaign as a revolt against Britain's political establishment. Parliament, he said, had thwarted the democratic will of the people in not delivering Brexit. Mr Trump is likely to use a variation on this narrative, attacking Democrats in Congress, who are on track to impeach him, for trying to thwart the will of the voters who elected him in 2016.

NYTIMES, ASSOCIATED PRESS

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 15, 2019, with the headline 'UK election results a harbinger of what's to come in US: Trump'. Subscribe