WASHINGTON (AP) — Britain’s stunning vote to bolt from the European Union sent political tremors across the Atlantic Friday, fueling Donald Trump’s confidence that frustrated U.S. voters will back similarly sweeping change and rattling Democrats who are banking on Americans ultimately choosing a more conventional leader in Hillary Clinton.
The British referendum was no exact mirror of the U.S. political landscape. The American electorate is far more diverse and Trump is deeply unpopular with minority voters, a serious weakness dogging his Republican candidacy. The referendum also centered on a single issue, while the presidential election can be as much a decision about personality and temperament as candidates’ policies.
Yet the parallels between the forces that drove the British vote and those at the core of Trump’s campaign are striking. Among them: a belief that globalization is hurting the working class, and increased immigration is changing the country’s character. In both nations, there is strong resentment of political elites who often appear to have little connection to the voters they’re supposed to represent.
“I think there are great similarities between what happened here and my campaign,” Trump said from Scotland, where he was attending the opening of one of his golf courses. “People want to see borders. They don’t necessarily want people pouring into their country that they don’t know who they are and where they come from.”
Fifty-two percent of British voters moved to withdraw from the 27-nation European bloc, despite dire warnings from Prime Minister David Cameron and other top officials about calamitous economic consequences. Stock markets around the world plummeted after the outcome was announced, Cameron announced his resignation and the British pound dropped to its lowest level in 31 years on concerns that severing ties will undermine London’s position as a global financial center.
In the U.S., Clinton cast the economic uncertainty as a reason America needs “calm, steady, experienced leadership” in the Oval Office — a knock on her often unpredictable and politically inexperienced Republican rival. Clinton aides also highlighted Trump’s assertion Friday that a weaker pound would make his Scottish golf course more attractive to visitors.
“Donald Trump actively rooted for this outcome and he’s rooting for the economic turmoil in its wake,” said Jake Sullivan, Clinton’s senior policy adviser.
Other Democrats, openly anxious, warned that the party should not underestimate the willingness of angry American voters to choose a more uncertain path in November and side with Trump.
“It’s a timely big splash of cold water in the face of Democrats,” said Ron Kirk, the former Democratic mayor of Dallas and U.S. trade representative for President Barack Obama.
Democratic operative Lynda Tran said that if U.S. voters are indeed seeking a broad political overhaul in November, Clinton will be “at a major disadvantage.”
“Having spent the last three decades of her life in public service, in the public eye and being a core part of the policies and the administrations that have brought us to where we are right now, it’s very difficult for her to grab the mantle of change,” Tran said of the former secretary of state, senator and first lady.
The British referendum comes as Trump tries to rebound from one of the worst stretches of his campaign. He’s struggled to raise money and build a robust organization for the general election, and this week he shook up his operation by firing campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
But for some Republicans, the outcome in Britain was a reminder that despite Trump’s shortcomings, he may be the candidate most attuned to voters — an intangible that campaign cash can’t buy.
“Brexit is a wakeup call for the Clinton team,” said Scott Reed, chief strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “The status quo won’t work this cycle.”
The referendum was fueled by support from white, working class voters from outside Britain’s population centers — a similar profile of Trump’s supporters. The biggest challenge for Trump will be broadening his base and overcoming his negative standing with minorities and women.
Unlike in Britain, where the referendum was decided on the basis on a national popular vote, the American election is determined on a state-by-state basis, with many of the most politically powerful states also being the most diverse.
But Jerry Spaulding, a farmer from Gilmanton, New Hampshire, who plans to vote for Trump in November, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the breadth of Trump’s support is broader that it may look in public opinion polls.
“I do think you’re going to see a lot of people coming out of the woodwork like they did in Britain,” Spaulding said.
AP writers Jonathan Lemire in Ayr, Scotland, Kathleen Ronayne in Concord, New Hampshire, and Steve Peoples and Lisa Lerer in Washington contributed to this report.
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