Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Johnson-Trump Axis of Victory?

Friends, my latest article considers the implications of the coming U.K. general election...for the U.S. presidential election in 2020. Specifically, I argue that Republicans and conservatives can learn from the resiliency and political resourcefulness of Britain's Tories.  Could Boris have found the key to banishing leftist loons from the halls of power for good?  See what you think of my analysis, coming soon to Townhall.

Springtime for Boris...and Its Lessons for Trump

After much procrastination and evasion, this week Britain's Parliament finally relented to the request of Prime Minister Boris Johnson for a general election. For the first time since 1923, Britain will have an election in chilly December. And yet, for Boris, this would appear to be springtime for his political prospects. Why? His Conservative Party is heavily favored to capture a solid majority, confirming Johnson's premiership and almost inevitably approving his renegotiated deal with the EU over Brexit. In short, by the end of 2019, it would appear highly likely that Boris will have solidified his grip on his party, on Parliament, and on a newly independent United Kingdom. That sounds a lot like total victory, from Boris's perspective.

Why am I so sanguine about Boris's chances? Because for months the British political establishment and the media have heaped contempt on poor Boris. They have pilloried him, whittled away at his majority in Parliament by encouraging defections and rebellion, and questioned his decency, integrity, and even his sanity. Boris has been given the Trump treatment, in other words, and yet he's still standing — unbowed, undaunted, and ready for more. Boris has proven his mettle in extraordinary fashion, and that makes it likely that he can endure — nay, prosper — in the midst of a tough general election campaign. After all, he's used to incoming fire.

Even more tellingly, despite all the slings and arrows that have come Boris's way, his party is soaring in the polls. The latest snapshots of voter sentiment in anticipation of the upcoming general election put the Conservatives ahead by 16, 13, 17, 14, 8, and 15 points, respectively. Can circumstances change before December 12th? Absolutely. But what fresh assault on Boris and the Tories can be contrived, when the opposition has already thrown everything at them but the kitchen sink? Stay tuned on that front.

Given the bright prospects now contemplated by Boris Johnson and the Conservatives in the U.K., it seems reasonable to ask the obvious question: why is the political right thriving in Britain at the same time that a similarly conservative, populist, nationalist leader in the U.S. is struggling? Why is Boris almost certain to win re-election, while most polls in this country show Trump losing to electoral lightweights like Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders?

The answer lies in a key difference between U.S. and British politics. In the United States, the two-party system, while manifestly unpopular, has proved surprisingly durable. In the U.K., on the other hand, eight parties captured seats in the last Parliamentary election, and this time approximately ten parties have a legitimate shot at doing so. Moreover, as recently as 2015 the two main British parties captured only two-thirds of the vote. In 2019, the average of current polling shows the Conservatives capturing about 36% of the vote and Labour about 25%. In other words, 40% of the public is either undecided or plans to vote for another party. In the U.S., polling averages show less than 10% of the electorate uncommitted to either of the two main parties.

And therein lies the secret of Boris Johnson's success. Make no mistake: the constant media onslaught on Boris has had an effect. According to YouGov, 48% of Britons view him negatively, and only 34% view him positively. In a political system in which a party that can gain 35-45% of the vote is likely to be a clear winner, however, Johnson's unpopularity scarcely matters. All he needs is for the anti-Boris vote to be scattered between the various parties opposing him, meaning primarily Labour, the Liberal-Democrats, the Scottish Nationalists, and the Greens. Since it would appear that the Conservatives' challengers to the right — Nigel Farage's Brexit Party — are considering an electoral strategy designed to help Johnson secure a majority, his chances of victory rise even further.

The lesson for Trump is a straightforward one, but one not easily acted upon. Trump is, to be frank, an unpopular figure, and an unpopular President, in a country where it is hard to win an election if you gain less than 50% of the votes. That's bad news. 

To win re-election, therefore, Trump must do one of three things: he must improve his own popularity (very difficult, given the media's undisguised loathing), he must drive up his opponent's negatives (somewhat more achievable, given the poor quality of the Democratic field and the vast resources available to the GOP), or he must divide and fragment the opposition, making it possible to win in 2020 with less than 50% of the vote.

The last possibility is seldom discussed in American politics, given our strong proclivities for a two-party system, but in fact previous Republican candidates have had success with this stratagem, even if it was seldom a conscious one. George W. Bush famously won in 2000 with less than 50% of the vote, partly because many left-leaning voters supported the Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. Donald Trump himself won in 2016 with only 46% of the vote, in part because many Americans supported the Libertarian or Green Party candidates. Moreover, as we have seen, because support for the two main parties in the U.S. is so even in most election cycles, even a small degree of support for a third party candidate can have decisive consequences.

Keeping all this in mind, President Trump, his advisors, and his supporters might want to pursue the strategy of fragmenting the opposition as much as possible. They could seek to exacerbate internal divisions in the Democratic Party by adding fuel to the fire of incidents like the Hillary Clinton-Tulsi Gabbard feud. They might focus their opposition research on potential opportunities to foster dissension between progressives and centrist Democrats. They might encourage speculation about third party or independent bids for the presidency, like that of Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks. If all else fails, Republican and conservative donors might even consider contributing to campaigns like that of the 2020 Green Party candidate for President (yet to be determined). Whether that candidate receives half a percent of the national vote, or one percent, or two percent, could easily determine the outcome of the 2020 election. For a conservative, wouldn't that justify cutting a check to an eco-radical? It surely might.

Boris Johnson already understands the desirability, even the necessity, of keeping his opponents divided and off-balance. By doing so, he can thrive in the context of U.K. politics. 

Someday, Republicans and conservatives in this country may reach the same conclusion.

Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an Associate Professor of History at SUNY Alfred and blogs at: He appears weekly on the Newsmaker Show on WLEA 1480.

And here it is at Townhall: 

P.S. Good news on the impeachment front: the battleground states are leaning against it.  Democrats are, as we all know, playing with fire! 


  1. Dr. Waddy: A Trump-Johnson axis , similar perhaps to that of Reagan and Thatcher, is much to be wished for. It will require successful campaigns for much extended tenure, on both their parts.

    For Johnson: I can well imagine a decisive
    faction of the British electorate seething over Parliament's demonstrated disdain for their clearly expressed will in the Referendum. And this may well be expressed in the polls.

    But Farage? How could he ever do other than support Johnson, since Johnson=Brexit. He must time his support wisely,yes; perhaps its best if he foster some doubt on the part of the proBrexit majority but then come in full for Johnson, creating a wave of gratitude and relief (?).


  2. Dr. Waddy; For President Trump: The top two contenders appear to be Warren and Biden (surely not Bernie, surely?). Your often expressed opinion that Warren would be a weak candidate might well apply to the two others, yes(?). But then. you have have made plausible arguments to the effect that Biden is not finished. Perhaps, if he perceives continued failure in his campaign, he will name a running mate (Gabbard?) who he can use as a counter to his fully to be expected cringing wooing of his party's leftist core. "Why, if I were an America hating leftist, why would I have embraced Tulsi (oh, excuse my presumptuousness)".

    Too, I look forward to President Trump's encounter in the debates with any of the prospective Dems. They never learn. Dukakis, Gore, Kerrey; all of them assumed the dismissive mien characteristic of arrogant and disdainful leftists and which Biden used against pitiful Paul Ryan. Bring it on Dems; streetwise Donald is ready - good luck against him!

  3. Dr. Waddy: I think the real America sees this impeachment effort for what it is; it is the culmination of the left's campaign to negate the 2016 election. They've been probing for a weak spot since then and they think they have found it. Of course, with them, "thinking" something is tantamount to establishing it as gospel. Consequently, opposition may well foster in them their customary contemptuous recklessness.

  4. I think, just my opinion, that no matter what, the press will not give President Trump a fair shake. I also think the polls are wrong, once again. I think the real "America" the ones who are silent are not polling. The real "America" will remain silent and the vote next year will be overwhelmingly for the current President. I also agree with Jack, this impeachment effort is going to be a big negative for anyone who is running for office. It shall be interesting the next year how things pan out. I also think the President is starting to see what he has to do--keep it real. Keep it real to the people, Period.

    As for our friends over the pond, these folks in Parliament will do everything they can to suppress the peoples vote. That is a sad reality.

  5. Linda: I agree; the President should continue to do as he has done, that is: fearlessly express and enact the wishes of the real America. Its a winning strategy, in large part because it is sincere.

    But if a decisively Conservative or Conservative/Farage Parliament be seated, might we not look to a body chastened by its past and its thereby condemned recent disdain for the popular will? God forbid that the institution of Parliament itself has separated itself from the will of the British people. That would foster fundamental change and who can say what direction it might take? Were it to eventuate, I would hope to see a partial restoration to the House of Lords of decisive power. A Sagittary educated as has the British ruling class in the decades preceding a present ascention, MIGHT prove a brake on leftist presumption (?). Those in the House of Lords are perhaps far more invested in the tradition of noblesse oblige or are at least better schooled on the leftist assault of their often accredited tradition. They were the backbone of the most advanced civilization ever ( and I include in this their American child, which necessarily chose different paths but did not reject the parent).

  6. Jack, it sure looks like Johnson and Farage aren't seeing eye to eye, but I suppose you're right that things can change. At this stage, Johnson doesn't need Farage's help. Maybe if the polls tightened, both sides would reconsider...

    In a fair world, Gabbard would be at the top of anyone's VP list, but I fear her feud with Hillary puts her off limits. Would Biden, or any Democratic candidate, invite the Clintons' wrath? I doubt it. Remember, Gabbard is persona non grata with the hawks too.

    "Contemptuous recklessness", Jack, is a phrase which everyone on the Democratic National Committee should probably have tattooed on their foreheads. You're right -- they're so deep inside their own self-created bubble that they may well pursue this impeachment delusion long after it's become self-destructive. The polling on impeachment remains close, but I note that still no one has polled the question among LIKELY voters. They should try it. It might be enlightening.

    Linda, I hope you're right that the polls aren't capturing a vast swathe of America that loves and respects our President. It may be so, but I wouldn't bet on it. Every poll has a margin of error, but Trump's consistent disapproval numbers above 50 percent worry me. I don't think a landslide is in the cards. Having said all that, I certainly agree that Trump should be himself -- it's both the right thing to do and, I suspect, the only thing he can do.

    Jack, I predict that, if the Conservatives get a majority, then all this obstructionist nonsense vis-a-vis Brexit will be rapidly forgotten. The people's will will triumph. That's assuming, of course, that you consider Boris's new deal an approximation of the popular will. I do. I understand Farage's purist philosophy, but politics is the art of the possible. At this stage, getting the UK out of the EU is more important than the gory details. If some objectionable ties remain, those can be terminated later.

    As for the House of Lords, I wrote my first academic and published paper on that very topic! I adore the House of Lords, but the sad fact is that the present body is a far cry from the traditional version. Life peers now predominate, and that means that the House of Lords, as far as I know, is largely a mouthpiece for establishment beliefs. The British aristocracy may still be largely conservative, but it's been sidelined even in its own chamber. No wonder Britain is a pale shadow of its former self.

  7. Dr. Waddy: In a stable polity, when, nonetheless, fundamental change(but not comprehensive, transformative change - that is for revolutions and for reckless dreamers like Obama and his avatars)is called for, sometimes a rededication or redefinition of an existing institution is a positive measure. Eg.Henry II and his "Justices in Ayre" who may well, at Henry's direction, have laid the foundation for what became the Common Law. Or, the evolution of the office of PM.

    I think your prediction of a conservative and Brexit victory is probable and that the election of such a Parliament will settle the concerns of perhaps a majority of the electorate that Parliament (perhaps after the example set by the EU bureaucracy, to which Corbyn and his ilk look for political correction of their erring nation - hence their antiBrexit) has dismissed their wishes.

    Since most of the Lords are Life Peers, that may be looked upon with favor by much of the electorate since their tenure is limited by their life span. After all, we have in the U.S. an analog in our SCOTUS Justices, who do have a very appreciable effect on our laws. I know Lawrence Olivier had a seat in the House of Lords but I do not know much about the origin of other Life Peers.

    Perhaps though, the electorate, were it to be moved to such outrage, might regard the proven process of Life Peerage, combined with hereditary seats, to be productive of a House capable of countering antidemocratic tendencies in a P arliament in which the Commons dominates(?).

  8. Hmm. Interesting analysis, Jack. I'm not sure how the House of Lords is perceived, frankly. I think, much of the time, it's probably perceived as an irrelevance, since, as you say, the Commons so dominates the British government. When was the last time the Lords seriously disrupted the passage of any legislation? I'm not sure. I would agree that a life peerage COULD be conducive to wisdom, but I'm afraid that, since these life peers are plucked from the establishment, they're more likely to represent entrenched interests and conventional wisdom. I would think they'd be LESS populist in their inclinations than the Commons. Like you, I love the idea of the Lords, but the reality may not match our expectations. Really, is there anywhere in the Western world where the elite now rules benevolently and with proper deference to Western values? We live in a time when our elites tend to deprecate their own culture. That's a bad sign.

  9. Dr. Waddy: But, I would argue with respect: perhaps the British electorate, were it to be incensed by perceived Parliamentary disdain and airy leftist Brexit rejection, would regard Life Peerage as a relatively acceptable standard and that their putative establishment origin might even recommend them as effective counters to a leftist captured House of Commons?

    It MIGHT take so much to reeempower the House of Lords(?). A repeal of those acts which stripped the House of Lords of much of its power? Could the House of Commons do this? Maybe, were it enseated by a dominant majority (?)

    The only country I can think of where the majority of entrenched interests and conventional interests prevail is in China and that is not a model for the West!

  10. This is such an interesting subject, Jack, because I am by temperament an elitist myself. I believe all societies are led by elites, and rightly so, and an elite that discharges its duty of leadership well can be a tremendous blessing to the masses. The British aristocracy -- indeed, most European aristocracies -- ruled benevolently, in my view, at least most of the time. Certainly, combining a good dose of nobility and elitism with a qualified franchise, as the British did for, oh, several centuries when the Empire was in its prime, was a superb way to run a country -- the model of a mixed constitution, if you ask me.

    What's become of the Western elites in the post-war age, therefore, is beyond tragic. By abolishing elitism, hierarchy, and patriarchy IN THEORY we naturally haven't abolished any of them in practice, but the ideals of duty, responsibility, noblesse oblige, and proper stewardship of the patrimony of Western Civilization, which used to prevail amongst our elites, have gone by the wayside. Now it's fashionable to despise the very sources of historic strength in our culture. I really believe populism is the order of the day at present, because our elites have strayed so far from the right path.

    Could a House of Lords be reconstructed, therefore? Sure, I suppose it could, but we have to ask: who would be doing the reconstructing, and what values would be guiding them? I strongly suspect that, these days, the answers to these questions would be anything but comforting.

    My take is that we should always dispose of traditional elites and traditional values with great reticence and circumspection, because, once they're gone -- and I fear they are close to gone -- they are very hard to get back.

  11. Dr.Waddy That their power has been confirmed by the historical,empirical test is very much to their credit.

    OK, we of the lower classes were very much ignorant of the painful, demanding education those of the ruling class endured at Harrow, at Sandhurst or in the terribly selective Civil Service. It may have escaped us that such processes were productive of benevolent and perceptive rulers. At the very least, their participation in decision making with those for whom a far more base experience obtained, nonetheless made for a positive compromise.

    And that suggests for this day a resolve on the part of the traditional, positive Britain that completely and comprehensively negative forces will be DENIED.

    This present situation provides a creditable battleground for the resolution of such a consequential conflict.

  12. Jack, the rigors of an upper class education in 19th/early 20th century England were such as to put to shame the most accomplished scholar of modern times! They may have been shockingly ignorant of STEM matters, but they were well versed in Greek and Latin grammar! The important point, I think, is that to be an upper or middle class Englishman in those days took considerable self-discipline and self-abasement -- and that's a superb foundation for leadership.

  13. Dr. Waddy: I fully agree; for the Western world, the education of the British elite embued in them both the assurance of their ability to guide their great country in benevolent and productive purposes but also gave them some understanding of what it is like to be disdained - as all underclassmen were in those academies which formed much of the British and American ruling classes for a time - even the American Ivy League and its avatars - . That this influence persists to this day in Britain, to the productive opposition of Labourites' understandable convictions, is a good thing.

  14. A nice thought, Jack, but it wouldn't shock me if the PC virus had made serious inroads in the British public schools as well. I choose to avert my eyes. I don't think I could bear to see Eton watering down its use of the male and female pronouns.