Vote is about more than Britain, as U.S. will also feel aftershocks
Trump claims vote part of global revolt against elites
Clinton may use post-Brexit chaos to argue for steady hand in White House
British voters just shattered political convention in a stunning repudiation of the ruling establishment. Donald Trump is betting America is about to do the same.
Voters in the UK did more than reject the European Union and topple their pro-EU Prime Minister David Cameron in a referendum Thursday.
- Why do the Brits want out?How Europe should respondWhy the U.S. is freaked outDoes this mean Trump will win?Results map tells a big storyCould this man be next UK PM?Anger in bedroom, joy on streetsReasons why Brexit could be goodCould Scottish independence be next?Britain voted 'Leave,' what's next?What will Brexit mean to me?World markets in crisis after Brexit
They also set off a cascade of events that could spark global economic chaos, remake the Western world, reverberate through November’s presidential election and challenge U.S. security for years to come.
The referendum campaign – just like the U.S. election – has boiled with populist anger, fear-mongering by politicians, hostility towards distant political elites and resurgent nationalism, and exposed a visceral feeling in the electorate that ordinary voters have lost control of the politics that shape their own lives. Its success raises the question of whether those forces will exert a similar influence in America in November.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who arrived in the UK to visit his Scottish golf courses just as the referendum result was announced, declared Friday that the U.S. is next.
“Come November, the American people will have the chance to re-declare their independence. Americans will have a chance to vote for trade, immigration and foreign policies that put our citizens first,” he said. “They will have the chance to reject today’s rule by the global elite, and to embrace real change that delivers a government of, by and for the people.”
Indeed, British voters delivered the kind of crushing rejection of the political, business and media elites that Trump has been railing against.
The Brits also snubbed President Barack Obama’s warnings against voting to leave Europe and risked triggering a global recession that would weaken already sluggish U.S. economic growth and dampen the hopes of his chosen successor, Hillary Clinton.
In her first reaction to the news from Britain, Clinton immediately took a swipe at Trump, though not by name. She called for Americans to respond to the vote by pulling together “to solve our challenges as a country, not tear each other down.”
Clinton also noted the global economic risks of the UK referendum, saying in a statement: “Our first task has to be to make sure that the economic uncertainty created by these events does not hurt working families here in America.”
In a particularly striking development, UK voters completely disregarded warnings from elite voices of the consequences of tearing the political system that has largely delivered peace and prosperity since World War II.
Similar warnings have been heard in the U.S. election – especially from Clinton and establishment politicians who fear Trump’s “America First” stance would send shockwaves through the global system and see America pull back from its role as a guarantor of Western security.
But in the UK this week, outsider politicians seem to have carried just as much weight with many British voters as more conventional fact-based arguments. World authorities like the IMF for example warned about the consequences of a Brexit – but voters went ahead and voted to leave anyway.
Speaking to CNN, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair described the Brexit result as a “big experiment in insurgent politics.”
He said the centre-left and centre-right needed to “rediscover radical, powerful answers in a climate driven by anger … a revolt against what is seen as established wisdom, but what is actually people making difficult decisions in difficult circumstances.”
There are, of course, several key differences between the British referendum and America’s looming election.
The UK vote was mostly about delivering a stunning and final blow to the country’s long and reluctant marriage with Europe and turned on a host of local factors including extreme Euro-skepticism within the governing Conservative Party, distrust of European politicians and institutions and disenchantment with Britain’s reduced place in the world.
But in a larger symbolic sense, the referendum result, narrow as it was – 52% to 48% – demonstrated the potential of voters to wield a stunning shock to the political system that can shatter the logic and assumptions of conventional politics.
There’s no guarantee that American voters will show the same kind of rebelliousness and willingness to leap into the unknown in November as a slim majority of Britons did on Thursday. And the U.S. system of state-by-state races and an electoral college could mitigate against some of the grassroots anger that exploded in a binary “Leave” or “Remain” vote in Britain.
But events in Europe must trigger at least some concern among Democrats.
Pollsters in the UK underestimated the fury of grassroots voters outside metropolitan areas in a way that could be mirrored in the United States, where Clinton now enjoys a lead in national surveys.
Furthermore, “Brexit” forces triumphed partly because the Labour Party could not deliver its traditional working class voters in some big post-industrial cities for the “Remain” campaign, despite the support of party leaders.