Peter Foster: Power games and blond ambition

Johnson and Trump have much in common but will Britain and the US really make them world leaders?
Boris Johnson (left) plays the Old Etonian while Donald Trump is "establishment" of the American kind. Photos / AP
Boris Johnson (left) plays the Old Etonian while Donald Trump is "establishment" of the American kind. Photos / AP

Only a few weeks ago Boris Johnson, a big city mayor with prime ministerial ambitions, would have been surely balked at being compared to Donald Trump, but his decision to throw his hat in the ring for "Brexit" now makes that comparison feel suddenly inevitable. Here's why.

Both are larger-than-life public figures whose popular appeal puts them outside the reviled political establishment, even though both the London mayor and the Republican presidential nomination frontrunner come from very establishment backgrounds.

Johnson plays the Old Etonian who is a decent bloke really, while Trump is "establishment" of the American kind - the scion of a multi-millionaire property mogul, who also somehow retains populist credentials, in his case the aura of the self-made man.

Both men are smarter and subtler than their bluff public personas would imply, and both find themselves trying to surf a wave of public disaffection that - despite all the predictions of the establishment - could yet propel them to the White House and Downing Street before the year is out.

That's right. It is a thought - sobering or uplifting, depending on your point of view - that by the time you sit down to eat your turkey this Christmas the leaders of the English-speaking world could be Boris Johnson and Donald Trump.

First, the common sense reasons why this could never happen: Trump is a clown who even if he wins the Republican nomination - and the bookmakers give him a 50 per cent chance - will be crushed by Hillary Clinton, who has a pretty much unparalleled resume for the job.

Trump is having fun, but still only wins at best 30 per cent of the GOP vote, or put another way, about one third of the 26 per cent of Americans who self-identify as Republicans. He's like Marine Le Pen in France, the commander of a significant vocal minority, nothing more.

President Trump and Prime Minister Johnson, a brave new world awaits you.

Johnson's route to Number 10, at least in the short term, comes only via a Brexit vote that dethrones Prime Minister David Cameron, clearing the stage for him to claim the office he has always craved.

But that too still looks unlikely. He may be popular, but most politicians, not to mention 80 per cent of the CEOs of the FTSE 100, all say Britain should stay in the European Union.

In short, Johnson will have his fun, but the innate conservatism of the British public means they will never take that "leap in the dark".

But now the reasons why they very well might.

A US general election - like a referendum - is essentially a two-horse, one-question race - and the history of modern US elections shows that after two terms of a president with approval ratings in the mid-40s, the "other guy" (from whichever party) usually wins by default.

Hillary Clinton, despite her CV, is a weak candidate. Additionally, in a low-turnout election, Trump has an even better shot if the young, Hispanic and African-American voters (who tend to vote in lower numbers) don't get to the polls.

This is not the only similarity with the Brexit campaign, where a low turnout would also help the older, whiter (eurosceptic) vote to disproportionately propel Britain out the exit door.

Both the Brexit and the Trump campaign are selling a kind of nostalgia that, even if it doesn't stand up to serious scrutiny in the view of the establishment and professional classes, simply makes a lot of voters feel warm and fuzzy inside.

As the satirical Saturday Night Live observed, Trump is offering a "golden goose to Hillary's cold chicken", and the people want goose.

Trump wants to "Make America Great Again", just as Johnson and the "out" camp want to put the "Great" back into Great Britain by freeing it from Brussels' python-like embrace.

Trump wants to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it; he wants to shut out Muslims and start a trade war with China, all of which of is mad, but it has a basic appeal.

The Brexit debate is more nuanced, but the Brexiteer's dream of unshackling the UK Europe, the "in" camp will argue, is equally emotional and incoherent.

But then, the truth is the angry publics of Britain and America can no longer bear too much reality.

President Trump and Prime Minister Johnson, a brave new world awaits you.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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