What Does Nigel Farage Get Out of Supporting Donald Trump?
This is the UKIP leader's chance to put himself in the centre of a global movement.
The spin room is a uniquely American creation, a sort of hell-corridor where, after a big political debate, the supporters of one candidate claim their guy won, loudly, to anyone who will listen. The "spinners" have strict talking points and refuse to acknowledge successes of the other side. Nothing is learned. Nothing is honest. Even the name, "the spin room", acknowledges that it's an echo chamber of bullshit.
In recent presidential elections there have been scores of political advisors and friendly politicians, who will, no matter what happened in the debate, come out to blindly bat for their candidate. But after Donald Trump's recent scandals, his bench has been severely depleted. Only three people currently holding elected office came out to support him after the second presidential debate: Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Representative Jason Smith of Missouri and a British politician called Nigel Farage, who can, for now at least, still call himself a member of the European Parliament.
Farage has become are an unlikely hero among Trump supporters, who see the Brexit vote as a kind of foretelling of a Trump victory. The similarities would be striking: an outsider nationalist politician wins a vote against the predictions of polls and advice of experts. It makes sense why Trump supporters would latch on to Farage. What's less immediately clear is why Farage wants anything to do with them.
Trump's approval in the UK is particularly low: around 85 percent of Brits have no confidence in him. Even among UKIP supporters, only 30 percent say they have at least some confidence in Trump. Trump also struggles for support among right-wing politicians. A straw poll taken by the BBC at the Tory party conference found that, with the exception of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Jim Davidson, most party members were enthused about supporting Hillary Clinton. Boris Johnson has made a series of disparaging remarks about Trump. Even UKIP leadership candidates like Lisa Duffy and Diane James have sought to distance themselves from Trump, or at the very least refused any kind of endorsement.
Yet despite this negative British response to Trump, on Sunday, Farage bent over backwards to support his campaign. Before the debate, when asked by Sky News whether he could defend Trump's boasting about sexual assault, he said: "The alpha male says and does boastful things." He said he suspects "those comments inflame and upset the media perhaps more than they will Trump voters".
After the debate he was in the spin room, brazenly supporting Trump, likening him to "a silverback gorilla", telling reporters he was "prowling the set and he is that big alpha male – that's what he is, that's what he is".
Then on Monday, on BBC 5 Live, Nigel Farage once again made light of Trump's remarks about women, saying they were "the sort of thing that some men do" and that it was "all well and good for the media to moralise" but "a lot of people do talk like that" and say "all sorts of boastful things to each other".
What does Farage have to gain from backing the Donald? Well, one theory is that Trump's campaign have wooed Farage – a seasoned debater, who was thought to have performed well in both the EU referendum debates and the general election – to help with debate prep. Farage has had plenty of experience responding to situations where either he or UKIP members have been caught on tape saying something unpalatable, so could help Trump in similar predicaments. Farage has denied he was specifically hired to coach Trump but a number of media reports have said otherwise.
Spending time in the US, defending Trump, also allows Farage to distance himself from the mess in his own party. Farage is currently interim UKIP leader, his previous replacement lasting just 18 days before she chose to resign. A new leadership campaign has yet to begin, but a violent punch-up between UKIP members in the European parliament left one UKIP MEP, Steven Woolfe, in hospital. As party leader, Farage is best placed to try and bring some discipline and order to his party, but he clearly has little desire for that, likely realising that there is now very little to be gained from involving himself in UKIP, a party which seems increasingly likely to implode following the referendum result. His only real comment on the debacle is to compare it to something "from the third world". A move to America takes him out the fray without him looking like a deserter.
But there is a broader ideological impetus to his move into US politics. Farage, a man who wants to ban HIV positive people from coming to Britain, who said it was fine to call a Chinese person "a chinky", who said parts of Britain were like living in "a foreign land", who said women are paid less because they "are worth less to their employers", has found a political arena where he is not just tolerated but adored.
Like Trump, Farage paints himself as an "anti-establishment" candidate while being about as an establishment as it is possible to be. Like Trump, he recognises that blue-collar workers who felt let down by the system are easy to rile up with strong anti-immigration rhetoric, particularly if you smush in a sense of being anti-banks and anti-politics as well.
Buoyed by the Brexit vote, Farage has sensed that his isolationist project could have an even bigger impact in the US. If he were to help Trump to a victory, he would have shifted the ideological direction of the West in less than 12 months. Even if Trump loses badly, Farage will have secured his position in a new global movement that celebrates isolationism and decries political correctness and multiculturalism.
As Farage himself said in a column in Monday's Telegraph, "I believe we are witnessing a popular uprising against failed politics on a global scale. People want to vote for candidates with personality, faults and all. It is the same in the UK, America and much of the rest of Europe. The little people have had enough. They want change."
What he's really interested in, as he says, is the "little people", by which he, of course, means "white people"
For his whole career, Farage has said he only cares about Britain and what's best for British interests, but as he pivots to the global stage, it's clear that this was only a means to an end. What he's really interested in, as he says, is the "little people", by which he, of course, means "white people". British, American, European - he supports all these "little people" knowing full well that fears about foreign investment and immigration are rarely shared by minority voters. Farage is drawing up the dots, creating a new kind of isolationism in which whites in Western, majority-white countries protect themselves from immigration and foreign powers, with him as a kind of global talisman for the little people.
And already it's working. On Monday, David Duke, the former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, posted an image of Farage, saying "If (((they))) pull off this #RiggedElection, if #Clintons win, White men must stand up. It will be time for patriots to do their jobs! #MAGA"
Today, Farage is just an eccentric Englander in a spin room, pretending Trump won a debate. But having quietly extricated himself from the petty politics of his soon-to-be-former party, Farage has, in the last 48 hours, put himself in the middle of a global movement of Western white voters against the rest of the world.
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