Donald Trump is turning into David Cameron – and I don’t mean this as a compliment.
David Cameron had some pretty stiff competition in the field of Most Awful British Prime Minister of the Last 20 Years. But at least his rivals – the dour, incompetent Socialist Gordon Brown and the venal and slippery warmonger Tony Blair – campaigned on a Labour party ticket. Cameron, on the other hand, campaigned as a Conservative. And there’s really nothing more despicable than a politician who betrays his own voter base in order to position himself as a mainstream centrist.
This is what David Cameron did, throughout his two terms as Prime Minister. To anyone of a genuinely conservative disposition he was a massive disappointment: on his watch, the police and justice system grew more politically correct, the minimum wage rose, Keynesian deficit spending continued to flourish, green policies proliferated, defence spending was cut while foreign aid was increased – delighting the kind of people who believe that conservatism is heartless and evil, but infuriating those who understand that it’s about hard but fair decisions taken for the long term benefit of all.
Cameron’s fundamental problem was that he wasn’t ideological. He believed – like Bismarck, like Tony Blair, unlike Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan – that politics is the art of the possible. He wanted to be liked much more than he wanted to do the right thing. He was more interested in what his hero Tony Blair called “eye-catching initiatives” – ie meaningless gestures like his doomed schemes to create a “Big Society” and to lead “the Greenest Government Ever” – than doing hard stuff that needed to be done like reducing government spending or reforming the National Health Service.
Clearly, it is far too early to say whether Donald Trump will prove as big a letdown as David Cameron. But there are a few similarities which should worry us: those of us, at least, who had hoped – and still hope – he was going to be a radical president who would drain the swamp and act in the interests of his people rather than merely pander to the establishment elite.
One is his cronyism. With Cameron, this mainly took the form of filling his inner circle with people who’d shared his privileged education at Eton or at least were rich enough to own lovely expensive homes in Notting Hill. With Trump it’s his family. When America voted Trump it didn’t mean Ivanka. Still less did it mean the immaculately liberal Jared Kushner, a Democrat whose influence sometimes seems so dominant you almost wonder why everyone didn’t just give up and vote Hillary, for all the difference it would have made.
Another is his apparent willingness to sell out to the system. Trump had one point of appeal above all: that he wasn’t part of the system. That’s why he galvanised the Republican voter base in the way that none of the other candidates could. People saw him as the anti-Establishment candidate whom they could trust would never be bought. But, as Peter Schweizer noted on Breitbart News Daily, he has a funny way of showing it. What exactly are all these Goldman-Sachsers doing so close to the Administration? Isn’t the Vampire Squid one of the biggest, ugliest creatures in the swamp Trump was supposed to drain?
All this would yet be fine, of course, if Trump were to heed the countervailing voices of the true ideologues in his Administration: the ones who get what needs to be done and who understand the need of the core vote. This is what’s so worrying about the alleged sidelining of Steve Bannon. Trump should be aware of the worrying precedent here, which didn’t end at all well for David Cameron. One of the few genuine conservative thinkers in Cameron’s government was his Education Secretary Michael Gove, whose radical reforms to the sclerotic education system were hugely unpopular with the teachers’ unions, the left generally and its propagandists at the BBC, but which had a transformative effect on the quality of Britain’s schools.
But Cameron – always more interested in headlines than real achievements – ditched Gove after being told by an advisor that Gove’s hardline policies and unapologetic conservatism were considered toxic by mainstream opinion. Later, this grave mistake proved Cameron’s undoing: in the Brexit campaign, during which he had counted on Gove’s support in backing Remain, he was appalled to find Gove fighting for Leave instead. This is one of the reasons why Cameron lost the Referendum and why his period as prime minister ended in such spectacular failure. It’s a lesson that Trump would do well to learn before it’s too late.
Then, of course, there’s that unfortunate business in Syria recently – which many of those of us who rooted for Trump find deeply troubling.
Ann Coulter set out the case against very well in her superb and witty Breitbart diatribe – Lassie Come Home!
War is like crack for presidents. It confers instant gravitas, catapulting them to respectability, bypassing all station stops. They get to make macho pronouncements on a topic where every utterance is seen as august.
On the other hand, Trump’s Syrian misadventure is immoral, violates every promise he ran on, and could sink his presidency.
Yes, quite. Cameron made precisely the same mistake in Libya when he set in motion the allied bombing campaign which eventually led to the deposition and death of Gadaffi. Sure Gadaffi was a terrible guy with blood on his hands. But from a Western security point of view – which ought, surely, to be the main priority of US military intervention – ousting him was a disaster. The warring Islamist factions which replaced Gadaffi are infinitely more dangerous to Western interests: as Ambassador Chris Stevens discovered to his cost in Benghazi.
How can President Trump, who previously knew all this stuff, suddenly not know it? Why is this non-Establishment free spirit suddenly enacting the kind of foreign policy one would fully have expected from President Hillary Clinton? How is this what America voted for?
The best complexion one can put all this is that the Tomahawk attack, like the dropping of the MOAB on Islamic State in Afghanistan, and like the sending of the fleet in the direction of North Korea are just a case of muscle flexing, reminding the world who is boss after a disastrous presidency under a man who had no faith in American exceptionalism and who seemed determined to show only weakness to the Muslim world.
Well if that’s the aim, fine. Certainly we mustn’t give up hope yet.
But I have to say, on a personal note, as an Englishman who has taken an awful lot of flak back home for his support of President Trump, I’m starting to get a little nervous.
In fact, in a few days I have to speak in a debate in defence of Trump and his first 100 days. My original plan was to hail him as the populist revolutionary who was finally going to free us all from the shackles of a corrupt, overweening and entrenched liberal elite. But the way things are going, I may have to adjust my position slightly. C’mon Mister President. Cut me some slack here. Please don’t let my best defense be: “Well at least he’s not quite as bad as Barack Obama.”