Five Lessons for US Democrats from Boris Johnson’s Victory in the UK
What the Democrats must do to avoid Donald Trump’s reelection in 2020.
January 14, 2020
Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party won the British general election on December 12, 2019 in a landslide. The Tories won their largest number of seats since 1983 and Labour received the lowest number of seats since 1935.
The next “big” election will be held in the United States, in just over 10 months from now. What can U.S. Democrats learn from the late 2019 victory by Boris Johnson so that they can prevent Donald Trump’s reelection in November 2020?
Lesson 1: Stop complaining about the distortions of the voting system. It won’t change!
In the warped British system of “first-past-the-post,” the Conservative Party got 56.2% of seats in parliament, while receiving only 43.6% of the popular vote.
In the United States, there are signs that the Democratic candidate for President may beat Donald Trump by 10 million or more votes or a margin of 7-8 percentage points and might still lose the election, owing to the vagaries of the Electoral College.
That would double the margin of 2016, when Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by five million votes. Even so, in the Electoral College she was thoroughly beaten by Trump, who received 304 votes compared to 227 for Clinton.
While the importance of the electoral system and its anti-democratic outcome with regard to a fair representation of the actual voting results cannot be highlighted enough, no bemoaning of that will change the ultimate outcome. The Electoral College, an 18th-century “innovation” that is solidly enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, is here to stay.
Lesson 2: Yes, liars win elections
U.S. Democrats must stop believing that pointing at the sheer endless lies of Donald Trump will make a difference in the voting booth. Yes, according to the Washington Post, Trump had lied 15,413 times during his presidency as of the middle of December.
But only intellectuals seem to care. It appears that constant lying has no effect on enough voters in a warped electoral system. Part of the explanation may be that quite a few voters are painfully aware that they only make it through their day by lying to themselves.
Either way, Democrats should not put any stock in the assumption that it hurts candidates to be liars. As Trump in 2016 and Johnson in 2019 amply proved, liars can win election contests hands-down.
Lesson 3: The top candidate matters above all
What the Johnson-Corbyn contest also underscored is that, in choosing their own candidate for President of the United States, Democrats must make sure that this does not become an “unlikability” contest.
Boris Johnson is not a likable man. Many Britons have grave reservations about him. The key reason why he thoroughly beat Britain’s Labour Party was that it allowed its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, the epitome of dislikability, to run.
Democrats should know all about the dangers of that. They made that same mistake in 2016 by nominating the highly unpopular and arrogant Hillary Clinton. As it was said at the time, the election was hers to lose – and she did a splendid job at just that.
As much as Joe Biden’s offer to bring back the genteel politics of the 1950-1980 U.S. Senate excites no one, if it doesn’t smacks of old-fogeyism, Biden wins the likability contest hands down. Whatever his deficiencies, including a certain amount of senility, that is a pivotal electoral card to hold.
Moreover, electing him offers voters their own version of “MAGA” (Making America Great Again), by hoping to get back to the more civil style of American politics. That hope may be elusive, but it could play well at the ballot box.
Lesson 4: Simple messages win
U.S. Democrats must urgently understand that comprehensive and detailed programs (such as Corbyn’s in the UK) are ineffective in beating a populist opponent. That’s where Sanders and Warren are in clear danger of pulling a Corbyn.
Johnson’s mantra “Get Brexit Done” was simple enough. And his promise to deliver a rosy future may have been utterly American, but it worked on parts of an electorate that feels shattered in socio-economic terms.
Suggesting to Democrats that they must expertly channel the key message they want to send to voters may sound shallow. But their constant inclination to provide voters with a litany of policy plans, many of them wonkish, will not deliver them victory.
To win, they must come up with a modern, positive, inclusive vision of the future, one that will promise better times for all. That may sound trite, but it’s Elections 101.
Lesson 5: Don’t overrate leaders’ morals
Democrats put great stock in pointing out that Donald Trump is a xenophobe, a nationalist, a misogynist, even a white supremacist. None of that is likely to lead them to electoral success.
Boris Johnson’s shallow personal morals should serve Democrats as a sufficient reminder. Moreover, in Trump’s case, much of this was already known the last time around and Trump still won the 2016 election.
Beyond getting their own party’s base to turn up to vote, the Democratic nominee must appeal to a sufficient number of Independents. That is no small task.
So far, no candidate seems to be able to be ideologically exciting and politically sober at the same time to accomplish this task.
Perhaps, this is Mission Impossible. More likely, Biden’s “safe hands” argument will win the day.
US Democrats must stop believing that pointing at the sheer endless lies of Donald Trump will make a difference in the voting booth.
Democrats should not believe that it hurts candidates to be liars. As Trump in 2016 and Johnson in 2019 proved, liars can win election contests.
Trump supporters don’t care that he lies, maybe because quite a few of them are painfully aware that they only make it through their day by lying to themselves.
US Democrats must urgently understand that comprehensive and detailed programs (such as Corbyn’s in the UK) are ineffective in beating a populist opponent.
Johnson’s promise to deliver a rosy future may have been utterly American, but it worked on parts of an electorate that feels shattered in socio-economic terms.