A body of water and more than 4,000 miles separate Alabama and Great Britain, but two events occurring within twenty-four hours on both sides of the pond provide a roadmap for the American political landscape.
Let’s start with Alabama’s Republican primary.
Though grassroots Republicans may have plenty of anger at GOP leadership, interim Senator Luther Strange reeked of home-brewed quid pro quo. As Alabama’s attorney general, Strange forced a delay in the impeachment of sex scandal-plagued Governor Robert Bentley, who would, in turn, appoint him to Jeff Sessions’s vacated seat.
The candidacy of theocrat Roy Moore provides a unique pick-up opportunity for Democrats in a state where they haven’t been competitive in over two decades. Moore will face the anti-Jon Ossoff, the documentary filmmaker who lost his bid for Congress in a Georgia district where he didn’t live, in Doug Jones, a lifelong Alabamian who as a U.S. attorney prosecuted and sent to prison two Klansman bombers of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.
Bigger picture, the rhetoric of Moore’s regional Republican party drives turnout for Democrats, influencing who they run and who can win in Democratic primaries. Elected Republicans nationwide will be in the untenable position of defending Moore’s decades of repugnant statements, further morphing the national GOP into a regional party with limited viability outside of the South and among their most right-wing conspiracy-minded supporters.
This radicalism on the far right creates an opening for extremism on the far left. The typical winning Democratic playbook is one of triangulation and moderation, but the radicalism of the regional Republicans creates a national opportunity for progressive leaders like Senators Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, both formerly derided as unviable.
An ocean away, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn outlined a socialist vision of cradle to graduate school free education alongside the dismemberment of Margaret Thatcher’s economic privatization. Corbyn pledges not only to return the railways and utilities to government control but also to give the state literal control over your dead body via automatic organ donation.
Corbyn is so far left, he makes Bernie look like a third way pro-business moderate. As recently as a year ago, Corbyn was a joke within his party. Today — as he pointed out in his speech — he’s the leader of the largest political party in Europe.
Post-Brexit, Corbyn has successfully proven that his brand of socialism can resonate and connect with unaffiliated voters. When the Tories set a cocky snap election for June of this year, U.K. polling models discounted the wild card of increased millennial turnout, another example of how the safe calculations of average political cycles are antiquated relics in the post-Brexit and Trump era.
Despite a double-digit Tory lead, Labour’s neo-socialist agenda turned out more young voters than any U.K. election in the last twenty-five years, as well as a substantial majority of undecided and late-deciding voters, netting 262 parliamentary seats. Considering recent polling that nearly two-thirds of millennials hold an unfavorable view of Trump, it’s decreasingly far-fetched to imagine a similar outcome in the 2018 midterms or that socialism is an ideological force in the 2020 Democratic primary. Though Millennials remain unenthusiastic about the Democratic Party, Sanders won more votes from the under 30 crowd than Hillary Clinton and Trump combined.
We’ve arrived at the “what’s next” inflection point after the shock and awe has subsisted. Brexit voters were willing to blow up the system without knowing the outcome, and the same was true for many Trump voters. But just as many Republicans are frustrated with the failure to repeal and replace Obamacare, U.K. voters are frustrated by the Tories’ inability to move forward with a plan to exit the European Union.
Corbyn relishes this legitimate point of attack, deftly painting May and her cabinet as the “coalition of chaos.” Instead of antagonizing Brexit supporters as xenophobes, he reiterates his respect for the legitimacy of the vote and turns fire on May’s “rag-tag Cabinet,” claiming they waste their time jockeying for internal power instead of negotiating the exit with the European Union.
I imagine that there are plenty of Brexit supporters who are as disgusted with that process as I am with three successive Republican healthcare plans seemingly sketched out by an insurance lobbyist on a cocktail napkin. As Congressional Republicans and Trump flounder on healthcare, Sanders continues to gather steam with a single-payer proposal for “Medicare for All” that a third of Republicans support. (Every current Democratic Senator speculated as a 2020 hopeful signed on to Sanders’ bill.) Republican strategist Steve Schmidt calls it the Democrat version of Trump’s wall with Mexico–though it probably never happens, the concept moves its supporters.
Outside of culture wars, it’s unclear how Trump will continue to energize his supporters. Trump supporters may blame the media for fixating on the Russia investigation, but the President has accomplished little during his nine months in Washington unless you count his new thriving hotel, where he’s spiked prices and netted nearly two million in profit instead of the two million loss predicted by the Trump Organization itself.
The Trump family’s ethical conflicts are only underscored by his Cabinet full of secretaries who only want to fly private. Maybe such corruption would be tolerated if accompanied alongside policy innovation and reform. That’s not what we saw this week, when former Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn, who oversaw sales of dubious mortgage-backed securities for which Goldman paid a $5 billion fine, peddles a tax plan that disproportionately helps the richest Americans, including the President himself. While Corbyn rails that 2017 is the year that there must finally be accountability for the 2008 recession, the White House tasked two of the biggest profiteers from the crash — Cohn and Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin — with creating fiscal policy.
Right now, within the National Republican Senate Committee and on Capitol Hill, Republican donors and allied groups are chattering about how they can counter the threat of Roy Moore. But there is a bigger threat coming their way, and the proof is just an ocean away.
Correction: The original version of this story misstated the name of Roy Moore’s opponent in the upcoming Alabama Senate race. He is Doug Jones, not Greg Jones. A caption also misspelled Roy Moore’s name.
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