Donald Trump tried to reassure his millions of Twitter followers on Thursday that all is not lost. He did so by giving himself a new nickname: Mr. Brexit.
They will soon be calling me MR. BREXIT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 18, 2016
Although he did not explain what parallels he sees between his faltering campaign for the American presidency and the results of the British referendum vote in favor of an exit from the European Union, just minutes later, the London editor of the conservative website Breitbart, Raheem Kassam, suggested that Trump was referring to the surprise victory of the anti-immigrant Leave campaign despite a raft of bad poll numbers.
I now understand this is a reference to how polls have him down but he believes they are incorrect/he'll win. t.co/zsui2N17lD
— Raheem Kassam (@RaheemKassam) August 18, 2016
Kassam did not say if he based this reading of Trump’s tweet on any inside information — but the message was posted one day after the Republican candidate put Breitbart’s chairman, Stephen Bannon, in charge of his campaign.
“Mr. Trump,” Kassam wrote on the Breitbart web site, “is said to believe that the U.S. presidential election is similar to the United Kingdom’s European Union referendum campaign, where pollsters consistently underestimated the Brexit vote, leading to a shock victory for the populist Leave campaigners.”
Although Trump’s current deficit in opinion polls looks far more serious than the numbers for the Leave campaign — which actually led in several surveys — the candidate himself suggested during a visit to Scotland in June, the day after the referendum passed, that his own campaign had tapped into a similar strain of anti-immigrant populism. Ignoring, or unaware of, the fact that a vast majority of Scots had voted to Remain in the E.U., Trump told reporters at one of his Scottish golf course, “Basically, they took back their country.”
Just arrived in Scotland. Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 24, 2016
On Thursday, after a pro-Brexit member of Briton’s Conservative party, Daniel Hannan, scolded Trump for his comparison, Breitbart’s London editor argued that the two campaigns were united by a focus on concerns over immigration and national identity.
Brexit supporters won by being upbeat, civil and open to global trade. Mr Trump, you're no Mr Brexit. t.co/Z4arMk8nr0
— Daniel Hannan (@DanielJHannan) August 18, 2016
Brexit supporters won by addressing immigration, culture, identity, and nationhood. Just. Like. Trump. t.co/nrWDKCgf1i
— Raheem Kassam (@RaheemKassam) August 18, 2016
It is undoubtedly true that the Leave campaign’s principal focus was immigration, certainly in the final weeks before the vote, which is when it started to pull even or ahead in many polls.
As John Lanchester noted in the London Review of Books, the campaign appealed primarily to white working class voters who, with good reason, felt left behind by the increasingly globalized economy, and vented their anger on migrants. Trump’s anti-immigrant campaign has been structured like this from the beginning, and he clearly hopes for a similar result from the people who attend his rallies waving signs that say, “The Silent Majority Supports Trump.”
What that argument overlooks, however, are quite different demographics — and the crucial difference between attitudes about immigration in the two countries.
As a Pew Research Center survey published in July showed, residents of the U.K. were closely divided on the question of whether “having an increasing number of people of many different races, ethnic groups and nationalities in our country” made Britain a better or worse place to live — with 33 percent saying “better” and 31 percent saying “worse”. By contrast, a majority of Americans, 58 percent, said “better,” and just 7 percent said “worse.”
What is perhaps more telling is that while 13 percent of the population of England and Wales was born overseas in the most recent data — a number comparable to the modern United States –mass migration is much more recent in the U.K.
And 86 percent of the population is white.
The American electorate is far more diverse, and, as Pew notes, nearly a third of eligible voters on Election Day this year, 31 percent, will be Hispanic, black, Asian or members of another racial or ethnic minority.
And, as the United States Census Bureau has found, most Americans are also well aware of the fact that they are descended from immigrants. In a new section of census surveys that asks Americans for their ancestry, 80 percent specified which other nations their people came from originally.
“In 2000,” the bureau reported, “42.8 million people (15 percent of the population) considered themselves to be of German (or part-German) ancestry, the most frequent response to the census question. Other ancestries with over 15 million people in 2000 included Irish (30.5 million, or 11 percent), African American (24.9 million, or 9 percent), English (24.5 million, or 9 percent), American (20.2 million, or 7 percent), Mexican (18.4 million, or 7 percent), and Italian (15.6 million, or 6 percent).”
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