It’s difficult to think of any issue in British politics outside of going to war that would normally impact the U.S. presidential election. But Brexit is it.
When I went as an observer to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, I was astonished by the reaction. Delegate after delegate wanted to shake hands to say congratulations on Britain reasserting our own national democracy. The Mississippi delegation even invited me to their state, to experience some traditional Southern hospitality, and indeed that’s how I ended up making a trip to Jackson, Miss., last month.
But the reaction was deeper than just amongst politicos. Ordinary people I spoke to in bars came up and talked to me about Brexit. Indeed, a group of U.S. naval veterans I shared a coffee with told me we should have done it years ago, that we British must have been mad to give away our sovereignty. I was surprised by how much they knew about the European Union. They particularly understood that E.U. membership meant open borders for Britain — which, in an age of increasing terrorist risk, they thought was plain crazy.
There is no question that Donald Trump’s campaign, under its new management, sees Brexit as a big opportunity. Trump even recently styled himself as “Mr. Brexit.”
But when the Trump team draw parallels between the situations in Britain and the United States — the detachment many voters feel — and compare their effort to our recent referendum success, they are absolutely right.
Brexit won because 2.5 million people who normally don’t vote or who have never voted in their lives turned out to vote on this occasion, meaning that a huge 17.4 million people in total ended up voting for Britain to leave the European Union.
It was the first victory against an international political elite who have led us into an endless series of foreign wars and seen politics effectively purchased by the big banks and the multinationals.
As the rich have got richer in our respective nations, the average family has found the going tough. In Britain, many have seen their living standards decline because of the over-supply of unskilled labor coming in from the E.U., pushing down wages and making the minimum wage the maximum wage for so many. There is no doubt that the No. 1 issue that got people motivated and excited to vote to leave the E.U. was the issue of Britain taking back control of her borders, just as two-thirds of Trump’s supporters see uncontrolled immigration to the United States as “a very big problem.”
Trump not only sees the opportunity, but will keep pushing the message.
I was pretty astonished on my trip to Jackson to be asked to take part in a Trump rally and genuinely surprised that he chose to introduce me and asked me to speak midway through his presentation. The week before, I had been told there would be a private fundraising dinner that Trump would attend. Only on arrival at Gov. Phil Bryant’s mansion did I hear there was to be a big Trump rally the next day.
The greatest parallel between the Brexit vote and to what may happen on Nov. 8 is that Brexit mobilized a large number of non-voters — indeed, some people who had never voted in their lives. That was what secured the victory. The people I met at the Trump rally mainly fell into the same category. And if the Trump campaign can turn out large numbers of these people, then all of the opinion pollsters and commentators could be proven wrong.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, appears to be so upset by Brexit and enraged by my presence in Jackson that she decided to launch an all-out attack on me. She issued willfully inaccurate character assassinations in a speech in Nevada that week, falsely accusing me of all kinds of nonsense. I’ve heard all of this before; in fact, I really felt at home. Clinton’s entourage joined in, too, with former Clinton adviser Neera Tanden bizarrely accusing the party I have led of being funded by Russians. Complete baloney. This kind of slanderous, ill-informed mudslinging shows the extent to which they are panicking.
Brexit has now become a political football in the U.S. presidential election. On the one side is a belief in nation-state democracy and proper border controls. On the other is continued global corporatism and the complete failure of Clinton and President Obama to accept the result in Britain on June 23. The world is changing — they just can’t see it.
I feel genuinely honored that the Democratic establishment have chosen to make me a bogeyman, and I intend to come back sooner rather than later to answer the charges in person.
So often the Brexit campaign and the Trump campaign are painted as being narrow and insular and as being about cutting us all off from the outside world. These charges often come from the same segments of our political establishment, who sneer at those who want to see strong border controls in nation states. How ironic, then, that it’s Trump who goes to Mexico and is gracious and complimentary about the country and its president. That it is Trump who is touring America, going out there and meeting the people in large numbers.
I know the majority of the American commentariat think that Clinton can win this election from her campaign bunker, managing to avoid news conferences or going out and meeting the people. While as a foreign politician, I won’t formally endorse anybody, I will say this: The new Trump campaign looks disciplined and positive. And you may be in for the same kind of shock the British establishment experienced on June 23, our Independence Day.
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