Talking Politics with David Jones: We need to talk about Donald

Trends in US politics have a tendency to end up crossing the pond a few years later - take televised debates and the rise of personality politics, to name but two. So what are we to make of the rise of Donald Trump?

Thursday, 10th March 2016, 9:39 am
Updated Thursday, 10th March 2016, 9:41 am
Donald Trump. Picture: John Devlin / Johnston Press

Trump, for any readers fortunate enough to have avoided coverage of the US presidential primary campaign, is currently the runaway leader in the race to secure the Republican Party’s nomination for November’s election.

Before last year, he was best known as a billionaire businessman with a striking haircut and the host of the US version of The Apprentice.

His speeches seem largely off the cuff, peppered with off-colour remarks and long, rambling digressions.

His policy agenda is driven by isolationist rhetoric; it includes banning Muslims from entering the US, a belligerent attitude to foreign policy and building a wall along the length of the US-Mexico border to curb immigration.

His own party establishment hates him, and he seconds that emotion. So why is he on course for a shot at the White House in November?

Partly it can be explained by disenchantment with the establishment - the same effect that drove Labour supporters here in the UK to embrace Jeremy Corbyn.

Voters are sick of the same old politics, and if nothing else Trump promises a break in the norm.

It’s an effect that could be amplified come the election if his opponent is, as seems most likely, Hillary Clinton.

But research carried out by an American graduate student, Matthew MacWilliams, suggests a major factor in Trump’s success may be that he appeals to authoritarians - a group of voters who, when they feel threatened by things outside their control like terrorism or social changes like gay marriage, tend to look for a strong leader who promises law and order and harks back to a golden age. As Trump says, “Let’s make America great again.”

Is there room for a Trump-like figure to rise in the UK?

As recently as last year, when UKIP’s election campaign crashed, you would have said not.

But now the looming EU referendum has brought all manner of bogeymen into the popular consciousness.

Boris Johnson, our most Trump-like figure, is backing a Leave campaign that harks back to a fabled era of Britain standing alone against the world.

Strap yourselves in for an interesting year on both sides of the Atlantic.

* The Sheffield Telegraph’s politics columnist David Jones on the rise of Donald Trump