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Donald Trump breaks all the rules of politics, and wins. Thus goes the anti-conventional wisdom, espoused by those such as Rush Limbaugh: Hillary Clinton doesn’t know what is coming. Trump’s candidacy should be a disaster, and yet, he’s leading in the national polls, wins primaries, and brings new voters into the Republican Party. Does this prove that, after all, Trump is the one who can win in November?
We actually have a test case for this hypothesis. A few months ago, the British Labour Party broke all the rules of politics, defied panicked opposition from the party establishment, and overwhelming elected a radically different “outsider” as its leader. Jeremy Corbyn, MP is a full-out socialist and Donald Trump a faux-conservative, and yet I’m astonished by how closely the two candidacies run parallel, down to the promise of an expanded party leading to victory. Like Trump, Corbyn was considered a non-serious candidate until he shocked the political world, eschewed traditional politics, smashed long-held assumptions, and brought new voters into the Labour Party.
Several months in, how’s that working out?
Each week of Corbyn’s leadership brings new adventures: erratic ill-considered statements like his call to decriminalize prostitution which has MPs in revolt; failure to deal appropriately with unsavory associations (sound familiar?) such as anti-Semitism in a Labour student movement. Hilariously, Corbyn deleted all his past writings from his website last week — failing to realize that would inspire reporters to hunt them down in internet archives to find whatever he was trying to bury (past comments on EU membership, evidently). That’s just the latest string of embarrassments; check back next week for more preview of the kind of wild ride we could expect with a Trump Presidency.
This was predictable and, evidently, did not trouble most Labour Party voters. But somehow, earning 60 percent in a Labour Party leadership election does not translate into popularity with the general electorate (and consider that Trump’s 35 percent of Republican voters is a weaker starting point). Those new voters, while presumably real, turn out to be a drop in the bucket. The harsh truth is that the qualities a majority of Labour party voters either liked or were willing to overlook are offensive to the broader British public. Corbyn’s personal approval numbers are absolutely disastrous (emphasis mine):
Allies of Jeremy Corbyn believed that he would appeal to non-voters and Ukip supporters, to the “left behind” demographic wooed by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the US presidential primaries. Even some opponents of the Labour leader expected his anti-establishment rhetoric to produce an initial poll bounce…
While 93 per cent of voters had an opinion on him (an unusually high figure for a new leader of the opposition), only 21 per cent viewed him favourably.
Everything we know — including his current name recognition and his unpopularity with both Republicans and the general electorate –indicates something similar would quickly be true of Donald Trump.
Corbyn’s own team now admits Labour faces a devastating blow-out in local elections this May. This is not because the Conservatives are doing amazingly well at the moment. They are not: An effective opposition could do them real damage, but that’s not what Corbyn’s offering. Andy Burham or Yvette Cooper might have been uninspiring, “establishment,” more-of-the-same candidates, but Labour has simply committed suicide instead. The numbers are unbelievably, horrifying bad. If the polls are remotely accurate — and recent history indicates if anything they actually underestimate the Conservatives — Labour faces a “double-digit defeat” in 2020:
Everything we know – every last scrap of data – says that the Labour Party as we have known it is in very profound trouble indeed.
Certainly, the party is in total meltdown. Donations have literally been cut in half. There are rumors of a parliamentary leadership coup — rather disheartened by the fear that Labour voters would pick Corbyn all over again. This is not at all normal British politics — it’s hard to express how unusual it is to see this level of panicked, open opposition to party leadership. Labour MPs are openly frustrated, harshly critical, sometimes frankly despairing. One MP said bluntly yesterday that her party will “absolutely not” win the 2020 election:
[Corbyn] and the people around him only seem to hear: ‘You’re amazing – can I have a selfie?’ The polls are terrible, aren’t they?
No one wants to be associated with a leader who is unpopular, utterly unpredictable, and quite willing to throw you under the bus; just ask Senator Jeff Sessions. The British parliamentary system leaves Labour MPs desperate with no way out except a likely- futile leadership challenge or (almost unthinkably) defection. American congressmen are less tightly bound, and the Labour reaction to Corbyn leads me to predict that if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee there will be a third-party run, and that many members of Congress will ally themselves with it. That would almost inevitably throw the election — and, with it, the Supreme Court — to Hillary Clinton.
If the Republican Party is to avoid that fate in November, it will be because — in spite of everything, and by the grace of God — the conservative movement is healthier than the British Left, and because the erratic Trump is an even worse fit for Republicans than the socialist Corbyn for Labour. Senators Rubio and Cruz have given Trump in their different ways a far bolder, more effective challenge than Corbyn ever faced. They have kept his ceiling down, and have proven able to inspire at least a portion of the electorate as his opponents never did. Donald Trump may not win the nomination after all.
But let’s not presume that, if he does, he’s headed to the White House in November.