Talking about Brexit is a little tricky compared to talking about Donald Trump. On the one hand, it’s very important but it’s also very technical, very tedious and, depending on which member of the UK government is talking at the time, very confusing. However, Brexit and the referendum that spawned is similar to Donald Trump’s rise to power. Concrete facts were dismissed for incorrect information, emotional appeals overrode logical arguments and so on. A wave of popular appeal has gripped the world at large and change is on the horizon.
Populism isn’t necessarily a bad thing: It gets people engaged in politics and forces them to consider the real issues facing the world today. However, Brexit and Trump are the products of populism taken to an ideological extreme. Alabama’s primary runoff, where the populist candidate Roy Moore won against the establishment figure Luther Strange is a sign of the consequences. The latter was endorsed by the GOP establishment and bizarrely Donald Trump while Moore became the favorite of Trump supporters and Steve Bannon. In short, populism against the establishment.
You can view Roy Moore as a strike against Mitch McConnell, a black eye for Trump or a gift for the Democrats. One thing that struck me was that Trump was being set against his base. Although he flip-flopped and mused on supporting Moore, Trump took pride in endorsing Luther Strange which is a strange choice for someone who ran his presidential campaign on being anti-establishment. If Trump followed his own ideology, he would probably have wanted Moore to win.
So what’s going on here?
Trump’s populist platform and surprise victory have fired up his supporters. Much like their British counterparts, they sense a change in the wind. They take pride in taking a hammer to the establishment and smashing it to pieces. They want change, they want it now and they’ll support anyone who takes the same platform as Trump did. They might stay loyal to their leader or to the party but it doesn’t matter as long as they get their voice heard. If they get to prove the establishment wrong along the way, so much the better.
This is bad news for the Republican Party who have to balance wild hopes and dreams with pragmatism and moderation. They stayed with Donald Trump as a way to seize power but now they have a President they can’t control and a toxic legislative agenda. The failure to repeal Obamacare perfectly sums up their failure to fulfill wild hopes and dreams by ditching moderation and pragmatism. The Republicans have shouldered a lot of blame that also belongs to Donald Trump but both will be paying the price.
Roy Moore’s victory is a black eye to Trump and a major headache for McConnell. However, it’s a sign of doom to the Republican Party who fear that candidates with extreme views will split the votes and cause long-term bitterness as their alienating views gain a public platform. Donald Trump’s endorsement of an establishment senator made little difference, a possible sign that his dire poll ratings might be coming home to roost. If he backs those with more extreme views, the results might be explosive or they may serve the purpose of the Democrats, driving moderates into their arms and into power.
Roy Moore’s victory is an ominous sign that the alt-right forces that Trump used to gain power are spiraling out of his control. The anti-establishment wing of the party is declaring war on the establishment and moderate wings of the party, a conflict that will have profound consequences for future elections. Trump is waking up to a bitter pill: his own base is rising against him. The same forces that got him to power have either turned against him or are fighting amongst themselves.
The center can no longer hold. Trump’s reckless acts have unleashed mere anarchy upon the world.