The Trump and Farage show proves they cannot be trusted with power

The insurgents appear as far away from real government as ever – though they cannot be written off just yet

Thursday 25 August 2016 18:06 BST
Farage appeared at at a Trump rally to attack Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton
Farage appeared at at a Trump rally to attack Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton

Not so long ago, insurgency was very trendy. When the Brexit vote was declared on 24 June, there was an understandable impulse to look at the apparently irresistible rise of disparate personalities such as Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and Nigel Farage as part of the same phenomenon – different, albeit often inchoate – examples of some global Peasants’ Revolt against the political establishment.

The bizarre not-so-comedy double act of Trump and Farage, witnessed at a Mississippi Republican rally, reminds us of the limits of this particular piece of contemporary political wisdom – not to say how a few weeks can be a long time in the further reaches of right-wing politics. Though it is far too early to write him off entirely, Mr Trump has slipped badly in the polls recently, and he no longer seems to be some sort of historical inevitability. He has, crucially, lost ground in most of the key swing states he has to win in November to have any chance of humiliating President Obama and Hillary Clinton (which, you get the impression, is actually his main motivation in running).

While wildly popular in his own party, or at least one section of it, Mr Trump has yet to replicate his appeal nationally and consistently. Much the same could have been said for this rough Democratic counterpart Bernie Sanders, whose own cult of personality seems to be disintegrating rapidly since he lost his party’s nomination.

Arguably the same argument could be made about Mr Sanders’s rough counterpart in Britain, Jeremy Corbyn (who was apparently misinformed by an aide about the extent of Mr Sanders’s enthusiasm for Corbynism). Like Bernie, Jeremy enjoys devoted support in a section of his own party that has not so far translated into a national movement. His own MPs remain deeply unimpressed by him, and his troubles will not be over even if, as expected, he wins the leadership election.

Mr Farage is also not quite what he seems. So far from his Ukip “winning” the last referendum, the victory of the Brexiteers was based at least as much on the personal appeal of Boris Johnson – a maverick now more or less safely contained in the gilded cage of the Foreign Office – and, moreover, the morbid antipathy of a large chunk of Labour and Conservative voters alike.

That said, Mr Farage’s personality and presentational skills have an easy appeal to parts of the electorate, and his “dog-whistle” secondary campaign in the European referendum played its part in motivating part of the electorate. But Mr Farage did signally fail to get himself elected to the House of Commons at a time when conditions could not have been more propitious. There is a certain disaffection with politics, but its degree may have been overstated.

So we should see the Trump and Farage stage show for what it was: a political stunt eliding truth with legend, and purloining for every fruitcake grouping the noble purpose of standing up to “the establishment”, the little man or woman fighting back against some vast conspiracy of political convention and correctness that has somehow enslaved them.

The very notion that the billionaire Mr Trump or the wealthy Mr Farage are anything like the folk they purport to represent, or have their true interests at heart, is as absurd as the Trump hairstyle, or that short-lived ‘tache that sprouted on the Farage upper lip. Outside of internal party elections and one-off referendums, the ability of extremists to win power is often overestimated. The power of the party system and the basically conservative instincts of the voters usually see to that. Perhaps the political establishment has something to be said for it after all.

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