As the world still reels in shock at Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, many are saying that the success of the “Leave” campaign represents a dangerous sign of hope for Donald Trump.
Not unlike Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the Democratic primaries, Trump has framed his candidacy as a grassroots movement that went against establishment politics and the dominance of political elites.
And as the Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum wrote, the Brexit debate transcended the policy debates typical in the UK’s elections, instead focusing on polarizing topics like immigration and nationalism:
“Identity politics trumped economics; arguments about “independence” and “sovereignty” defeated arguments about British influence and importance. The advice of once-trusted institutions was ignored. Elected leaders were swept aside. If that kind of transformation can take place in the U.K., then it can happen in the United States, too. We have been warned.”
This parallel was not lost on Trump himself either, who compared the “Leave” campaign to his own candidacy for president at a press conference in Scotland on Friday.
“People want to take their country back, and they want to have independence in a sense,” he said. “They took their country back, just like we will take America back.”
For once, he may be right. The xenophobic, nationalist impulse so inextricable from his campaign was the same sort of reasoning that fueled the success of the Brexit. In some sense, plans for a ban on Muslim immigration and a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border are no different than Britons’ fears regarding an influx of Syrian refugees through Turkey.
Perhaps most importantly, though, it’s worth noting that support for both Trump and Leave first came into being because a mainstream, right-wing political party was overtaken by fringe conservatism.
Worth remembering that #brexit is happening because a center-right party threw a bone to its lunatic fringe to save a flagging campaign.
— Chris Jones goes to therapy sometimes (@ProfChrisMJones) June 24, 2016
Kim Soffen, also of The Washington Post, accurately notes that the British electorate is much more homogenous than the U.S. population — which made it easier for anti-immigrant impulse to catch on — and that Leave’s success rested more on high turnout rather than lots of support.
Still, the numerous interviews with voters who acted “in protest” (or failed to turn out entirely) and didn’t truthfully believe that a Brexit would win should serve as a stark reminder of the consequences of this kind of political activity.
While polls and pundits alike are pointing to the improbability of a Trump victory in November, a win for the Leave campaign points in the opposite direction. If anything, the success of the Brexit means that fringe, anti-establishment politics cannot be written off so quickly.
Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks following a news conference, at his Turnberry golf course, in Turnberry, Scotland, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne