Demagogues have had a good run of late but the tide may be turning. Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen failed to pull off widely predicted electoral coups, while the Austrian far-right fell short in presidential elections. The SNP can no longer rouse a rabble like it once did and Ukip, out-Kipped by Labour and the Tories, is now an irrelevance. But none is as dramatic as the stalling of the Donald Trump bandwagon, which could yet come off its wheels. The President faces allegations of colluding with the Russians during the 2016 election. Springing into action, his son Donald Trump Jr. tweeted out campaign emails in an effort to refute the charges. In fact, the correspondence confirmed that Trump Jr. had met with a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. A Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer. A Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer acting as ‘part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump’. There are smarter villains on Murder, She Wrote.
As things stand, there is a great deal of smoke but as yet no smoking gun. Even if one doesn’t emerge, however, the damage has been done — and not just to Trump. The Republican Party initially fought Trump’s nomination but acquiesced after he won, placing electoral opportunism ahead of the party’s values and the country’s interests. Honourable Republicans like Bill Kristol and David Frum saw Trump for what he was early on and understood that he would not only make a hopeless Commander-in-Chief but would eventually taint the GOP by association. Those fears were well-founded; after six months, the right’s great orange hope has achieved little except the vulgarisation of the office and the Trumps have tackied up the presidency more crassly than any previous First Family. It’s like watching the Kardashians re-enact Watergate.
Republican power brokers are starting to panic, and justly. No wall. No deportation of Dreamers. No Obamacare repeal. The swamp, undrained, is looking more like a flood risk every day. The US embassy is staying put in Tel Aviv. The party of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan threw in its lot with a carnival barker and for what? One lousy Supreme Court seat. American conservatism has plunged itself into an existential crisis but at least the right to take an AR-15 to McDonald’s will be safe.
This is why Democrats would be foolish to impeach the President. Every day he remains in office makes their job of taking back the Senate and the House a little easier. More significantly in the long term, it colours the Republican Party in shades of Trump. A recent survey found that the three words Americans most associate with the President are ‘idiot’, ‘incompetent’ and ‘liar’. Unless the voters change their minds about the man in the Oval Office, the GOP will struggle to escape those labels for some time.
Just as the Republican Party is being Trumped, the British Labour Party is finding itself rapidly Corbynised. Few sights are as pitiful as erstwhile moderates desperately seeking the good graces of Jeremy Corbyn’s court. When the Romans took prisoners of war, they would make them perform in naumachia, mock naval battles staged for the entertainment of the emperor. Cassius Dio records what happened to a group of naumachiarii who tried to ingratiate themselves to Claudius: ‘When this in no wise availed to save them and they were ordered to fight just the same, they simply sailed through their opponents’ lines, injuring each other as little as possible. This continued until they were forced to destroy one another.’ The bold defenders of New Labour surrendered for the pittance of a hung parliament and, with much the same futility, now plead for their political lives. Ave Corbynator, morituri te salutant.
Those in Labour who took a principled stance against Corbyn right up until the exit poll dropped on election night are now chirping merrily on-message. They thought Corbyn a moral abomination and unelectable but it turns out he might be electable, so it’s all okay now. These born again Corbynistas made nary a peep after pictures emerged this week of Corbyn breaking bread with Marcus Papadopoulos, an Assad cheerleader and Srebrenica genocide-denier. Perhaps Jeremy was just trying to encourage dialogue between Radovan Karadžić and 8,000 dead Bosniaks.
As long as Grampa Stalin continues to dole out promises of free tuition like Werther’s Originals, the polls are going to look good for Labour. The ex-moderates will complain about far-left abuse of female and Jewish MPs but will not challenge Corbyn to act because Labour is leading in the polls. They will plead for unity, rather than fight back, when Momentum starts deselecting their more recalcitrant colleagues because Labour is leading in the polls. There is scarcely an outrage they won’t impotently lament because Labour is leading in the polls.
The problem with leading in the polls is that, eventually, you run the risk of winning. Ask the Republicans and they’ll tell you, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.