Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson reacts as he is greeted by staff, arriving back at Downing Street, after meeting Queen Elizabeth and accepting her invitation to form a new government, in London, Britain December 13, 2019.
Stefan Rousseau | Pool via Reuters
Now that Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party have won an historic victory in the U.K. elections, many are wondering what lessons this very clear outcome may have for our upcoming 2020 elections in the U.S.
The answer is: plenty.
It’s not that the Conservative victory in Britain means conservatives or the Republican Party will sweep to similar win here in the States. It’s not as simple as that. But some of the key factors that made this the biggest election win for any party in the U.K. since 2001 are also at play on our political scene. Both major U.S. parties and all the key candidates should take notice.
1) Your candidate matters more than the issues
Britons are still debating the exact reasons why the Labour Party posted its worst election results in decades. Some say the ongoing Brexit drama was the culprit because the issue crossed traditional party lines. A lot of Labour leaders say this was a much tougher election for them to win with what they’re downplaying as a “Brexit distraction.”
But that excuse is off-target. You don’t need to look any further than the top of the Labour Party to see one big reason their opponents did so well. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has always struggled with high disapproval rates in the polls, and his personal conduct became more and more of an issue in the election in its final weeks. That was most clearly evident as new allegations of Corbyn’s alleged coddling of antisemitism in the Labour Party began to grab as many front pages in the British tabloids as stories about Brexit. This culminated with the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain’s blockbuster editorial in the Times of London stating that Corbyn was unfit to lead the nation. When the rabbi’s message was essentially backed up by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the issue stayed front-and-center until the voting began.
Meanwhile, Corbyn also personally fumbled on the Brexit issue. He began giving murky answers on whether he supported it or not, finally just repeating a promise to hold a second national referendum in the near future. Even in a parliamentary system like the U.K. where voters are supposed to vote for and focus on parties and not individual candidates, Corbyn’s personal negatives were just too hard to overcome.
The lesson for the U.S. political stage is that the actual top candidate for your party matters greatly. If the Democrats seek to win back the White House simply with an anti-Trump message, it’s not likely to work. They will need a presidential nominee who generates decent positive poll numbers on his or her own.
For the Trump team, this too is informative. It may seem like it will be impossible to change President Trump’s personal conduct and public habits that irk so many independent and moderate voters. But there will definitely be gains to be made by getting him to tone down the taunting and constant angry responses to seemingly every public figure who criticizes and attacks him.
2) Don’t mess with the power of the voters
Labour took a hit in the polls from a segment of the population who were turned off by the party’s push to ignore the results of the 2016 Brexit referendum. Most of the pushback obviously came from those who voted to leave the E.U. But there were also many “remainers” who were shocked by the blatant disregard for a close, but very clear referendum result. Conservatives made an issue of purging party members who were blocking Brexit and Labour did not.
The Democrats ought to take heed of this development as they continue their impeachment process against President Trump even as the voters are poised to make what should be the definitive referendum on the president’s tenure. Journalist Michael Tracey summed up the ominous message this has for American Democrats nicely in one tweet:
It’s probably too late for the House Democrats to shift gears and focus on a bruising censure of President Trump rather than banking on removing from office. But if President Trump’s resilience on the polls and stronger fundraising in response to the impeachment process continues through Election Day, the Democrats won’t be able to say this British election result didn’t warn them.
3) Conservatives can win over the working class
For decades, the only religious or social issues ever gave Conservatives in Britain and Republicans in the U.S. a chance to gain working class votes. But the Conservative Party’s decision to support Brexit helped it crack through in several U.K. constituencies that had been held by Labour for more than a lifetime. Some Conservatives are now claiming that they are the party of the working class. That’s probably the hardest pill of all for Labour leaders to swallow right now.
Similarly, in the U.S. in 2016, then-candidate Trump won over many working class districts with an economic message on trade and immigration that clearly strayed from the establishment Republican Party. His message has clearly proven that the GOP doesn’t need to rely on wedge issues like abortion to attract voters who aren’t swayed by tax and regulation cut promises. If there was any chance that the Trump campaign would forget that lesson, that’s even less likely after the Tory win in Britain. President Trump’s continuing strength in the polls of blue collar states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin show his campaign still maintains this key priority.
It’s important to remember that the British election results are more instructive than they are predictive for the U.S. But at this point it looks like the Trump campaign and the Republicans are poised to learn more from those instructions than the Democrats.
Jake Novak is a political and economic analyst at Jake Novak News and former CNBC TV producer. You can follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.