Donald Trump didn’t take long to congratulate Boris Johnson on his victory in today’s Tory leadership race. ‘He will be great!’ was Trump’s snap verdict on a man who he described at a rally this afternoon as a ‘really good man’.
It’s safe to say Boris has a fan, at least for the time being, in the White House. But what about the rest of America? Boris is, of course, a well-known commodity in Britain; you either think the guy is a brilliant political mastermind with a people’s touch or a dolt who should be nowhere near Downing Street. Across the pond, it’s a little different. In Washington, D.C., there is a sense of curiosity about the man with the floppy blonde hair and clownish humour who has prepared for the prime ministership all his life. Brexit aside, it is not often these days that political events in Britain dominate the US news agenda. But that’s just what has happened in the hours since Boris’s victory.
Naturally, there is a lot of scepticism. One of the main questions people are asking is simple: how can Tory members elect a man who has a history of gaffes and embarrassments at such a pivotal moment in Britain’s history? To be fair, Brits probably asked the same question of Americans when Donald Trump was elected in 2016. But nonetheless, there is much bemusement at the prospect of the British Trump, as Trump himself dubbed Boris today, coming to power.
Another question is this: is Boris Johnson the leader that will pull Britain out of the Brexit hell or will he be overwhelmed by the responsibilities? Boris may have Trump in his corner but plenty of others in the US are not convinced a bombastic rabble-rouser is what is needed right now.
The New York Times, which is no fan of Boris, didn’t mince its words:
“Throughout history, chaos has often been a crucible of great leadership. Yet with Britain in the throes of its biggest political crisis since World War II, it will be surprising if that turns out to be the case this time.”
On the eve of the result, Amy Davidson Sorkin of the New Yorker blithely referred to the former foreign secretary as someone “whose main talent, if one can call it that, is to make lies sound amusing.” Even those in awe of Johnson’s powers of persuasion, like Republican consultant Douglas Heye, admit that he will need to tap into every single one of his abilities to navigate the turbulent waters of Brexit.
Democrats will largely keep their mouths shut on Boris, save for the standard “I wish the next PM well in his endeavours.” But it doesn’t take a political crystal ball to realise that probably all of them would have preferred the alternative. To the Democratic party, Boris Johnson is just a wittier version of Nigel Farage: loud, obnoxious, ridiculous, yet gifted at riling up the masses.
Republicans, meanwhile, will mostly follow Trump’s lead as they have for the last nearly three years. The public cheering will be over the top, knowing that Boris was Trump’s favourite candidate and looked like a kindred spirit next to the Maybot. Newt Gingrich, for example, sounded like he was looking forward to the prospect of PM Boris, describing Britain’s new leader as ‘Margaret Thatcher with wild hair’. There are others in the GOP who don’t agree with Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, but they too will let bygones be bygones in the interest of moving forward constructively.
The US-UK special relationship will endure regardless of who is president or prime minister. The alliance between the two countries isn’t dictated by personality, but rather shared values, history, and interests. But let there be no doubt that with the celebrity-politicians Trump and Johnson now at the top of their respective political systems, we live in interesting times. Americans will be watching Boris as many Brits have watched Trump: with a morbid interest, waiting for the next scandal or outlandish comment to rear its face.