The British, despite their sometimes deluded, and unrequited, belief in the transatlantic special relationship, have always had an obvious intense interest in who is running the superpower. Historical and cultural links remain strong, and the personal rapport between leaders sometimes worked to the benefit of mankind (Churchill-Roosevelt), and sometimes not (Bush-Blair).
Donald Trump represents quite a challenge to even his natural political allies in the UK. The Education Secretary Justine Greening finds him repulsive, as well she might. The Defence Secretary Michael Fallon doesn’t want to comment. Nigel Farage travelled 4,000 miles to Jackson, Missouri to support him (near enough). Sadiq Khan accused Trump of “playing into the hands of Isis”. Lord Sugar thinks he is a clown, by now a global consensus.
Trump, it hardly needs saying, is a misogynist, Islamophobic monster. His policies, if such they are, would destabilise the US economy, fracture Nato and, yes, play into the hands of Isis. Against that, it must be conceded, he seems remarkably open to a rapid free trade deal with post-Brexit Britain. Whether his fondness for the UK would outweigh his dogmatic protectionism is a different matter.
Nonetheless, non-interference in other countries’ elections is a wise principle. Sometimes “sister” parties send help to each other across the seas. New Labour and the Clinton administration had a mutually beneficial traffic in advisers and ideas. That was fine because both parties were winning. By contrast, John Major's attempt to help his friend President George HW Bush get re-elected in 1992 soured relations badly.
Other British politicians have stuck to trying to get themselves as close to the leader of the free world as often as possible, usually in the run-up to a general election, but sometimes to comic effect, as with Gordon Brown having to make do with a “walk and talk” with Barack Obama through a kitchen at the UN. American presidents tend not to get overexcited about the arrival of a British prime minister in town, and meetings with the Queen are apparently much more satisfying (President Obama recently placed her in the same bracket as Shimon Peres and Nelson Mandela).
Trump, however, is in a different, unignorable order of awfulness to any previous main party candidate because of his extraordinary rejection of the very values that Britain and America share. It should be possible for British leaders to say that it is up to Americans who they vote for, but make it clear that, as with any other nation, it is more difficult to deal with a person who demeans women, Muslims and many others.
As things stand, Mr Trump is behind in six out of seven swing states and, this close to polling day, something quite strange would have to happen to put him back in the race. Still, to borrow Mr Farage’s formulation about Hillary Clinton, we shouldn’t be shy to say that Americans should not vote for Mr Trump even if someone paid them to.
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