Johnson and Trump Implode on the Same Day - Is It the End of the Populist Right?
The Anglophone world's right-wing leaders have both been out of power for quite some time now, but last Friday seemed like a death blow, could it really be the case?
In 2016 the Anglophone world was turned on its head. While the US and British governments had been tracking a more or less conservative line, at least fiscally, for several years at that point, no one quite predicted the hard right swing both nations would take that year. First, Brexit won! a populist, nationalist, anti-progressive, one nation sword thrust. Then Trump’s Maga movement was born and won the Presidency. It was a right-wing populism sweep into power in both the UK and US. Our worlds unified by a sudden shift to culture wars, xenophobia and terrible hair-dos.
Now, over the last weekend, the flag bearers of this political twist, Donald Trump aka The Orange One in the US and Boris Johnson aka The Greased Piglet in the UK, faced political destruction as a result of their not so genius moves which even a pangolin might have avoided, meaning extreme ‘legal woes’. Donald ‘don’t play with my boxes’ Trump became the first US president to ever be federally indicted, for stealing/using his mind powers to retain and declassify really big state secrets like nuclear defence plans and mid-east attack plans.
As if that was not enough fun for one day, a few hours later Boris ‘I only made a toast so it can't be a party’ Johnson protested the Parliamentary inquiry into his Covid conduct by going on strike like everyone else in the United Kingdom. In Johnson’s case he has decided that he should continue to neglect representing his constituents in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, just in a more official way now.
Its important to consider in these moments where everything seems up in the air what these events mean and if their twin nature, like the events bringing both men to power in 2016, will signal the end of an era brought in by the sudden rise of populism amongst right-wing figures in the mid-2010s.
For one thing, both men clearly have some sort of Vision Pro that a glorious return to power is on the way. Trump is not only running for the 2024 presidency, he’s by far the Republican favourite, especially given his competitors seem too busy fighting a retro cartoon mouse, or refusing to condemn stealing state secrets.
Johnson, on the other hand, has never explicitly eluded to a return to power. However, it’s a widely known secret that following the political death of his immediate predecessor Liz Truss, he attempted to broach a grand political return, but presumably found that support came at too high a price, like an actual Vision Pro.
Now he seems to have abandoned even the potential of an immediate return, as he is leaving Parliament, however he refuses to give up a possible comeback, sounding a bit like Paul McCartney who now has John Lennon on the tracks using AI, with his own resignation letter refusing to admit this final Parliamentary story might be his last one. I suppose he was never that great at recognising when the party is over.
It seems that in the minds of Johnson and Trump their political careers will never die. But while both men think they have as many lives as James Bond, the political reality might differ... And even James Bond died in the last movie.
Within their own parties Donald clearly Trumps Johnson (sorry) in his ability to corral the herd behind him. Almost none of his political opponents within the Republican party are willing to condemn him for his actions, with his leading rivals for the nomination actually speaking in support of him. The lone Republican rival willing to attack him for his actions, Chris Christie, is a fading star, out of political office since he abandoned his position when he somehow managed to run approval ratings even worse than Trump’s in D.C. (Trump got a positive 2% in DC. ) In fact, it was so bad he was the least liked Governor in the United States, which is saying something.
Johnson on the other hand used his resignation to attack the new Conservative leadership, and Sunak in return wasted no time accusing his former boss of having requested he betray historical precedence. He then had his allies dump further dirt on Johnson’s grave, while benefiting from Johnson’s supporters strange suicide pact ensuring that he doesn’t have to do a Comrade Starmer style purge of his party for political opponents on the ideological extreme. It seems Johnson has at least learnt from his Mayoral days how to exit in style/chaos/a sh*tfit.
When it comes to predicting the end of any political movement, most commentators will come out looking less impressive than a striker for Chelsea. So it should be of no surprise that this author is reluctant to make any definitive statement about the end of these two men’s careers. However, it does feel possible to suggest that the unique position of Johnson, with his party’s leadership abandoning him and his allies deciding that their best approach to support him is to shoot their own political careers in the foot, leaves him unlikely to make a political comeback any time soon. Just like the poor pangolins/Wuhan lab in real life.
Across the channel the United States seems to want to continue the craziness of a Donald Trump political career-in-perpetuity. While his first federal hearing seemingly went without hiccup, numerous Trump followers have sworn to violently oppose any criminal rulings against him which will presumably return us to an almost infinite loop around another January 6 event with him likely behind bars (again) only to keep his poll numbers soaring and his donors writing checks he can keep cashing.
Added to this, Trump’s Republican colleagues remain largely his lap dogs, and his base seem to be re-energised, rather than repulsed as Johnson’s are. Polling data for both men suggest that Trump will still be on the shortlist to be sitting in the White House in 2025, while Johnson has become a write-in only option in a tiny election for the western-most London borough. Pinky meet Perky.
Both men though are at the weakest they have been since 2016, with Trump’s approval rating taking a hit over the weekend, and the chances of him receiving a 10 year sentence as a result of some of his own presidential decisions seemingly quite high. Johnson simply doesn’t seem to have Trump’s uncanny ability to have just as good a chance of being elected while behind bars as behind an election rally podium. Or maybe that’s an American thing. After all Britain already has its King.
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