Johnson’s historic success, on a par with Margaret Thatcher’s high-tide victory in 1983, has confirmed that the new right-wing populist coalition works. This is Nigel Farage’s vindication as much as it is Johnson’s — his Brexit party won no seats but compelled the Tories to take a clear pro-Brexit line, and by doing so Johnson not only secured a mandate, he remade British politics. The gains the Tories realized among less-educated voters and the working class, in some cases flipping constituencies that had voted consistently for Labour since the 1930s or even earlier, are of potentially revolutionary consequences. Johnson has ‘dished the Whigs’, or in this case, the multiculturalists led by an old-line socialist. The Democratic party in the US doesn’t have a singular figure like Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. But the composition and fault lines of the party is quite similar — the coalition of the woke and politically correct with the McKinsey consultant class embodied by Pete Buttigieg (the bright young thing in a party otherwise led by soon-to-be octogenarians) is a poor fit for Rust Belt voters on cultural and economic grounds alike. Joe Biden may personally have some appeal to those voters, but his record in the Senate on trade deals and regime-change wars belies his ‘Ordinary Joe’ image.
The challenge that Trump faces is to secure his coalition as effectively as Johnson has done. The irony is that Trump is culturally much more attuned to the new populist-right base than Johnson is, but Trump has shown a self-harming tendency to cut deals with his enemies. He deferred too much of his administration’s domestic agenda to House Speaker Paul Ryan — America’s analogue to Theresa May — during his first two years in office. The USMCA trade deal that Trump has devised to replace NAFTA is an improvement, and its passage in the House of Representatives even in the midst of impeachment is a political success. But Trump has to convince his base that USMCA and a trade truce with China are not the end of his fight for a better deal for American citizens and workers. Like Johnson, he has to keep what is salvageable from the old conservative coalition while adding new populist muscle.