Someone sounds nervous.
[Clinton advisor Jake] Sullivan said [on a conference call] that working-class angst — which seems to be contributing to Donald Trump’s relative success in the United States — was not necessarily the driving force behind the Brexit vote. Local factors were at work, he argued, pointing out that working-class people in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted very differently than their peers in England and Wales. “This American election is about what is happening here in America, not what is happening in Yorkshire or in Cardiff,” he said…
Again and again, journalists continued to press the Clinton campaign on whether the outcome of the Brexit vote augured a Trump victory in November. “We have a real confidence that Americans are a generous, tolerant, big-hearted people who believe deeply that we are stronger together,” said Sullivan, echoing the Remain campaign’s unsuccessful “Stronger Together” slogan.
Sullivan further suggested that the economic upheaval likely to roil Britain over the next several months could prove to Clinton’s benefit, causing Americans to use their “common sense” and think twice about electing a destabilizing force such as Trump. “We’re very confident that when all of that is factored in, we need someone like Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office, not someone reckless, erratic, and divisive like Donald Trump,” he said.
The media is indeed deeply interested in this angle today even though It’s the “underpants gnome” theory of the presidential election. Step one: Brexit. Step two: ????? Step three: President Trump. Said GOP lobbyist John Feehery to Yahoo News, attempting to fill in step two, “This is a protest vote against globalization and there is one presidential candidate who won the nomination who has put globalization in his crosshairs – and that’s Donald Trump.” A Democratic strategist quoted in the same story said he woke up anxious today at the possibility that the polls may be underestimating Trump here just as the polls in the UK underestimated “Leave” there. Could be, although … the polls didn’t really underestimate “Leave.” The final few polls did have “Remain” winning, but Nate Cohn looked back and found that of the last 35 polls taken in the UK, it was “Leave” that was ahead in 17 of them versus 15 for “Remain.” The race was tight for weeks; the best reason for thinking “Remain” would pull it out wasn’t any compelling statistical evidence but rather the sense that the status quo would prevail in such a momentous vote. The fact that it didn’t suggests Trump too could shock the world if he and Hillary are neck and neck in October. But they’re not neck and neck now. She leads consistently across various polls, most of them conducted by the same pollsters who had Trump ahead — accurately — for months during the primaries. He’s got work to do to make this a coin-flip proposition like Brexit.
Another firewall against “Brexit contagion” for Team Hillary is the different racial demographics between the two countries. Britain is overwhelmingly white at 86 percent of the population. Non-Hispanic whites in the U.S. are a mere 63 percent, and of course minorities trend heavily Democratic. Given the votes Hillary will pile up among non-whites, Trump will need to strongly outperform Brexit among America’s white majority to reach the same outcome. And he’ll need to do it without the benefit of the strict campaign finance laws in the UK that leveled the playing field between “Leave” and “Remain.” Hillary will end up crushing him in fundraising, spending, organization, and microtargeting; his advantage in earned media will need to compensate for all of that somehow. And on top of all of that, as Josh Barro notes, a presidential election simply isn’t the same political animal as a referendum. One of the most shocking things about last night’s vote was how much political crossover there was for “Leave” among unlikely partisan groups, with 30 percent of the far-left Liberal Democrats supporting Brexit. Trump will get some Democratic votes but nothing like that, as partisan loyalties in a presidential race are simply more tribal than they are when presented with a “neutral” ballot initiative. Ask Americans voters if they support “populism” or “returning power to the people” and I’m sure they’d vote yes in a walk. Ask them if they’d rather hand the nuclear football to Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump and, well…
Barro thinks the best argument for connecting Brexit to Trumpmania is the economic fallout. If the world ends up in recession due to lingering jitters about the viability of the European Union, anxious Americans could tilt towards the strongman instead of the EU-style cosmopolitan on the Democratic ticket. I don’t know, though: If the economy sours, Hillary will spend the next five months insisting that it’s nutty to believe that the same sort of nationalist upheaval that inspired a global recession should be compounded by a lurch towards nationalism in the U.S. as well. The solution to a problem caused by a Trumpist mentality, in other words, isn’t more Trumpism. Would that be enough to keep Democrats and independents in her tent on election day? Dunno, but I wouldn’t rule it out. The best argument for believing that Brexit increases Trump’s chances of winning, I think, is the plain fact that it moves the Overton window dramatically on what’s politically possible in western democracies. Everyone knows that secession votes don’t work, certainly not in the heart of the Anglosphere. That’s third-world stuff. There’s too much institutional pressure from the governing/media class against them here. Except … it did work. Britons made the boldest political move of the young century. Brussels is now worried, rightly, that secessionists in other EU countries will galvanize opposition at home to break away too. In any country there are people who refuse to mobilize for bold change not because they oppose it in substance but because they believe it’s hopeless. Once they have proof that it isn’t, things change quickly. (See, e.g., the Arab Spring.) That’s why the EU is worried about contagion. Brexit proves to everyone, Trump fans included, that it isn’t hopeless. In fact, there may already be Americans who have quietly resolved to vote for Trump but who are reluctant to tell pollsters that because they’re embarrassed by his judge comments or what have you. This may encourage some of them to speak up, which will itself move the polls to more accurately reflect the state of the race. Either way, the conclusion from Brexit that anything can happen won’t be lost on America’s undecided voters. The mystery now is what they do with the information.
Here’s a little audio candy for Trump fans to end a long week.