Now both are governed by unscrupulous populists. Though Prime Minister Boris Johnson is more articulate and erudite, he and Trump are cut from the same demagogic cloth. Johnson became a conservative journalist, and now the Conservative Party leader, by spreading pernicious myths about the European Union; Trump has uttered a record-breaking 13,435 falsehoods since taking office. Both men are ensnared in sex scandals: Johnson is accused of groping women and providing city contracts to a woman he was having a relationship with while mayor of London, Trump of sexually assaulting women and paying off his mistresses in violation of campaign finance laws.
Both men stumbled onto their signature issues out of sheer expediency: Trump was for immigration before he was against it, and Johnson could have either supported or opposed Brexit — whatever was more advantageous. Both made promises they couldn’t possibly keep — Trump to build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it, Johnson to leave the European Union without any serious financial or political cost.
Both men are inept at governing. Johnson lost his first seven votes in Parliament and his majority in the House of Commons, and Britain’s Supreme Court ruled that he had illegally suspended Parliament. He might finally achieve a Brexit deal but only by making concessions, such as allowing Northern Ireland to remain de facto in the European customs area, that he would have opposed from anyone else. Trump, for his part, hasn’t reduced illegal immigration (863,016 undocumented immigrants were apprehended at the southwest border in fiscal year 2019 compared with 408,870 in fiscal year 2016), and he has made a shambles of his foreign policy from Syria to North Korea.
Not surprisingly, both men are unpopular: Johnson’s YouGov approval rating is 33 percent, while Trump’s Gallup poll approval is 39 percent. And yet Johnson is heavily favored to win a general election that is expected soon, because he has the good fortune to face an opposition leader even more reviled than him: Jeremy Corbyn’s approval rating is a rock-bottom 23 percent.
The issue isn’t just that Corbyn is personally unlikable, although he is. It’s that his views are so extreme. Under his leadership, the Labour Party has pledged to nationalize energy, water and rail companies; to create a state-owned drug company ; and to abolish private schools. Corbyn is critical of NATO and the E.U., but he has a soft spot for anti-Semites in his own party, for anti-Western dictators such as Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, and for terrorist groups such as Hamas and the Irish Republican Army. Even many voters who can’t stand Johnson prefer him to Corbyn.
Might something similar happen in America? As was evident in all the criticism she received in Tuesday night’s debate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has overtaken Joe Biden as the Democratic Party front-runner. She is far more likable and far less radical than Corbyn, but in the more conservative context of U.S. politics, she is easily caricatured as a far-left extremist — an open-borders socialist, as Trump supporters would put it.
Warren supports decriminalizing illegal immigration and providing illegal immigrants free health care; a Medicare-for-all plan that would abolish private health insurance; a Green New Deal that would force a radical revamp of the economy; a plethora of new government programs that would necessitate a big tax hike; and an isolationist foreign policy. (At Tuesday’s debate, she said, “I don’t think we should have troops in the Middle East.” Her campaign “clarified” that she wasn’t referring to “non-combat bases.” But all military bases are designed to support combat operations.)
Polls show Warren defeating Trump but by a smaller margin than Biden — and that’s before Trump has started to work her over. Democrats should be concerned that Warren has struggled with two critical constituencies — white, working-class voters and African American voters — that they need to win. Even many liberal executives are wary of Warren because of her anti-business rhetoric. Like Corbyn, she relies on support from progressive activists who are out of touch with ordinary voters.
The only way Johnson or Trump can win is by alarming voters about what the opposition party would do. Labour has played into Johnson’s hands by keeping Corbyn as its leader. I fear that if they nominate Warren, Democrats could be playing into Trump’s hands, too.