Trump and Leave
Donald Trump shares much with the UK’s Leave campaign. Both play fast and loose with facts, and backtrack from promises all too easily. Yet by invoking the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the stakes could be even higher for a victory by the presumptive Republican nominee for U.S. president.
The day after Britons abandoned the European Union, the political face of the movement backpedaled on a central pledge of the campaign. Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, said he couldn’t guarantee that some 350 million pounds of weekly funds sent to Brussels could be diverted to Britain’s National Health Service. The claim had been emblazoned on buses and other Leave propaganda, and was believed by almost half of respondents in a poll just ahead of the referendum.
Such dissembling is distressingly familiar for American voters. Like the Brexiteers, Trump successfully thumped his rivals in the Republican primaries by making outrageous statements, often unsubstantiated. He also has made policy pledges devoid of concrete plans to enact them. When these proved unworkable, he has – like Farage – backpedaled.
The billionaire once called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Last week, speaking from his golf course in Scotland, he said his ban would apply only to “terrorist” countries. Whether nuance or flip-flop, the position resembles Brexit in its oversimplification and absence of a detailed way forward.
Britain’s pro-Leave leaders are scrambling to create an actual alternative to the EU while markets are plunging and business confidence tanking. Ultimately, though, the UK is a trading nation, with a long history and dependence upon transacting business beyond its borders. It can find a path using conventional methods like individual trade treaties.
Some of Trump’s more disruptive ideas may be less easily managed once embraced headlong. Take abandonment of NATO, the security arrangement that has ensured regional peace since World War Two. Trump says it “may be obsolete.” It wouldn’t be easy to unilaterally pull out of NATO without the Senate’s backing, even if it makes a nice rallying cry to put America first.
But as Britain just learned, just saying no can be dangerously easy. Creating an alternative is hard. One without the other is a recipe for disaster.