Lord Ashcroft: Trump, his opponents, and the voters – halfway through his (first?) term

As a woman in Iowa told us: “It’s like the CEO of the company I work for. I don’t care if you’re the nicest guy in the world. I care that I’m going to have a job from day to day.”

Yesterday was the second anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration as President. Other things being equal, the next such ceremony will take place on 20 January 2021. In other words, we are now into the second half of Trump’s term – or should that be his current term? Since the 2016 election campaign, my Ashcroft in America project has helped explain how Trump came to be elected, the hopes and fears of his supporters and opponents, and what they make of the unfolding story of his presidency and its seemingly endless controversies.

My new book, Half-Time! American Public Opinion Midway Through Trump’s (First?) Term – and the Race to 2020 brings together two years of research with new polling conducted since last November’s midterms to explore how different parts of the electorate see the President and his agenda, and how they are lining up for next year’s showdown. Here are five of the big points.

Trump’s supporters are (mostly) still with him

Those who voted for Trump give him high marks on most issues, and overwhelmingly say that they approve of his overall performance. They largely give him the credit for America’s recent economic success, citing his tax cuts and rolling back of regulations. They also strongly approve of his appointment of two conservative judges to the Supreme Court – a particularly important point for Republican voters who had their doubts about Trump at the election. His tough line on immigration, which they closely associate with national security, has also gone down well with the base, as has his willingness to take on international partners over trade deals and defence spending, and his continued determination to say exactly what he thinks.

But this is not uniform across the board – those who chose Trump as the lesser of two evils, or switched to him having previously backed Barack Obama, give him lower (though still positive) scores compared to those who were enthusiasts from the outset. They are more open than Trump voters in general to be willing to consider an alternative at the next election.

Many separate his personal behaviour from what he does as President

This is not to say that Trump’s voters like everything about him. Many are doubtful about his personal ethics, and want him to be a bit more presidential, cut out the name-calling and generally calm down, especially on Twitter. But even his more reluctant voters generally like what he is doing as President, even though fewer approve of his character. Whatever their qualms on this score, they decided at the election that other things mattered more, and this still holds true. Many of the criticisms of Trump have focused on his conduct, but his voters are more focused on delivery. As a woman in Iowa told us shortly before the midterm elections: “It’s like the CEO of the company I work for. I don’t care if you’re the nicest guy in the world. I care that we’re going to be successful and I’m going to have a job from day to day.”

We can expect to hear a lot more about immigration and healthcare

During the 2016 campaign we asked Americans about their greatest fears. Republicans’ biggest worry was the immigration system letting in individuals who would threaten their community. For Democrats, and for voters overall, it was being unable to pay for treatment if they or their family were to have a serious illness. Two years later, these two issues topped the list when we asked about the most important issues in the midterm elections.

As of today, the federal government remains shut down because of the continuing standoff between Trump and the Congressional Democrats over funding for a Mexican border wall. Trump continues to invoke the migrant caravan making its way north towards the frontier. The most committed Republicans have the most negative views about the effects of immigration, and Democrats regard the now-abandoned policy of separating the children of illegal immigrants (which made even some Trump supporters uneasy) as among the most deplorable aspects of the Trump presidency.

Meanwhile, the controversy over healthcare has not gone away since the administration’s failure to push reform through Congress, and Democrats are not alone in worrying about it: Republicans too raise it as a concern and most want to keep the requirement for insurers to cover pre-existing conditions. The two issues look set to play a big part in the next two years and the 2020 campaign itself.

The investigation into alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign – potentially the most explosive of all, and which could in theory explode his presidency – is not one that actually moves many votes: whether you think Trump is bang to rights or the probe is a politically motivated witch hunt essentially depends on whether you voted for him in the first place.

The electorate is shifting – especially on the left

During the run-up to the 2016 election, we asked 30,000 Americans about their background, ethnicity, education, work, religion, level of political interest and sources of news – among other things – as well as their attitudes to social and cultural issues. We analysed the results to identify ten distinct segments within the electorate, which fell into four clusters: the Democrat Core, Centrist Voters, Republican Partisans, and a more disengaged but dissatisfied group we called the Trump Targets.

In a similar study two years on, we find some small declines in the centrist and disengaged groups and a minor uptick in the Republican-supporting segments. But the biggest change has been on the Left.

As before, a third of the population falls into one of the three segments of the Democrat Core – but while two of these groups (the Mainstream Liberals and more working class and socially conservative Blue-Collar Democrats) have shrunk, the most left-leaning segment has doubled in size. This shift is a telling part of the movement’s response to the Trump presidency. We have heard focus group participants explain how they once considered themselves moderates, but have felt themselves driven leftwards in reaction to his words and deeds.

We can also see changes in their broader political outlook. In the most liberal groups, we can see dramatic falls over the last two years in the numbers thinking life in America is better than it was 30 years ago, that life for today’s American children will be better than it was for their parents, and that it is possible to succeed in America whatever your background.

His opponents’ reaction to him could work to Trump’s advantage

Not surprisingly, asked what kind of candidate they would like to see take on Trump in 2020, Cosmopolitan Activists prefer the idea of a progressive liberal to a moderate centrist by a huge majority – bigger than that among Democrats more generally, let alone uncommitted voters in the middle. People most likely to be in play on the other side – Obama-Trump voters, lesser-of-two evils Trump voters who couldn’t stand the idea of President Hillary Clinton, and moderate Republicans open to an alternative to the incumbent – seem unlikely to flock to such an individual.

But as well as being the furthest to the left on the political spectrum, the young, educated and affluent Cosmopolitan Activists are also by far the most likely of all the segments of the electorate to donate to campaigns, work for candidates, attend political events and, crucially, vote in the Democratic primaries. Will their horror at Trump and all his works drive them to choose the candidate most likely to hand a second term to their nemesis?

Half-Time! American Public Opinion Midway Through Trump’s (First?) Term – and the Race to 2020 is published this week by Biteback.

Ben Roback: Three weeks into a record shutdown and no sign of a compromise

The President’s strategy of making a resumption of normal government depend on funding for his wall doesn’t appear to be working.

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.

As British politics sinks further into a self-enforced abyss of disagreement with no end in sight, it is worth remembering that we are not alone in navigating choppy waters.

The US Government is in its third week of a partial shutdown that it brought entirely on itself.

The shutdown is now entering day 27, and crucially there is little indication of a cooling of tensions that could provide a light at the end of the tunnel. Its implications are octopus-like, reaching simultaneously into complex areas of public policy and people’s everyday lives.

Hundreds of thousands of federal employees are either being furloughed or working without pay, bringing pain to households in commuter towns in Washington, Maryland, and Virginia. Around the country, a lack of airport security personnel means screening takes hours when it should take minutes (scarily, in three weeks, Atlanta airport is expecting over 100,00 passengers coming into town for the Super Bowl).

The longest government shutdown in history shows no sign of ending any time soon. Americans employed by the government and tourists hoping to visit national parks are losing out at the sharp end of the shutdown – but does its continuation in fact suit both parties?

Playing the blame game

Both the White House and Congressional Democrats have been keen to continually lament the shutdown, scathing about its impact on Main Street American jobs and the macroeconomic impact. The longer the shutdown goes on, the more both sides are proven correct – yesterday the New York Times wrote:

“The partial government shutdown is inflicting far greater damage on the United States economy than previously estimated, the White House acknowledged on Tuesday, as President Trump’s economists doubled projections of how much economic growth is being lost each week the standoff with Democrats continues.”

For the President, this brings a significant risk. Donald Trump has prided his tenure so far on the economic impacts he has delivered – a bullish stock market and wholesale tax reform for companies and individuals. Tumbling economic forecasts suddenly undermine that narrative, which will be one of the central features of his 2020 re-election campaign.

It represents a likely battle taking place between the economic and immigration advisers in the President’s inner circle. After all, the shutdown is only entering its 26th day because of the White House’s insistence that fiscal provisions to keep the Government open contain over $5 billion in government funding to build a wall on the US/Mexico border.

With absolutely no surprise whatsoever, Democrats are refusing to acquiesce – immigration became one of their top priorities as an increasingly diverse electorate become ever more important to their electoral coalition. In previous congressional cycles, the focus had been on securing a long-term solution for the so-called “dreamers”, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy. Notable attempts failed under President Obama in 2014. Since Trump made chants of “BUILD! THE! WALL!” a central feature of his election campaigns, that focus has sharply shifted to the issue of the wall.

So, who is to blame? The President has sought to shift blame towards the Democrats, whom he continues to describe as “obstructionist”. Following a televised address to the nation last week, three polls showed that strategy is failing to land:

  • A Quinnipiac University poll (here) found that 56 per cent of voters held Trump and congressional Republicans responsible for the shutdown whereas only 36 per cent said they thought congressional Democrats were responsible.
  • A CNN/SSRS poll (here) found that 55 per cent of Americans blamed the President for the shutdown, compared to 32 per cent who blamed the Democrats. Interestingly, the poll also found that a majority (56 per cent) opposed the deal whilst only 39 per cent supported it.
  • A CBS News/YouGov poll (here) found that 47 per cent of Americans blamed Mr Trump “most” for the shutdown, compared to 30 per cent who cited Democrats. However, 20 per cent allocated blame “equally” on both parties, suggesting neither is gaining as a result of the current malaise. Worryingly for the GOP, these criticisms are held acutely amongst suburban voters – whose votes will be crucial for Republicans in states like Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia in 2020.

Immigration shaping up to be the biggest wedge issue in 2020

As we enter the lame duck period, so much of what happens in US politics will be viewed through the lens of the 2020 general election. The proof? Since Christmas, three Democrats have launched their early campaigns for the presidency and a fourth appears imminent. On the left, the pressure from the grass roots will be to hold an aggressive line in staunch opposition to the wall. There will be absolutely no political reward whatsoever for riding to the rescue of a President that has buried himself in a bunker. And so:

  • Elizabeth Warren, who was the first to launch her campaign for 2020, has tweeted: “24 days into the #TrumpShutdown and over 800,000 federal employees have already missed 1 paycheck. How many more before Republicans stop crushing working families and re-open the government? Time to end this.”
  • Tulsi Gabbard has tweeted: “Today an estimated 800,000 federal employees will miss their first paychecks of the year. Families are suffering. Our country is less safe. The impact of this shutdown is real.”
  • Kirsten Gilibrand has tweeted: “The emergency at our border is the cruel treatment of children who are still detained. It’s the asylum seekers being shut out. It’s @realDonaldTrump’s dehumanizing attacks on immigrants in need. We need to end the shutdown and get back to solving real problems families face.”

For the President, the strategy of keeping the government shut down unless Democrats vote to fund his border wall doesn’t seem to be working. According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, since the shutdown began the president’s aggregate approval rating has fallen from 42.2 per cent to 40.8 per cent.

No end in sight

The 2018 midterm elections saw the Republicans and Democrats trade on the currency of anger and fear in the American public. Those two sentiments have continued into the 116th Congress and there is no sign it will end any time soon. For that reason, it is hard to forecast a sudden change in sentiment from the White House or Congressional Democrats, one of which would be needed to bring about an end to the shutdown.

Lord Ashcroft: America – the mid-terms and beyond

The 2020 race, then, looks wide open and depends on two things outside the President’s direct control.

For many months before America’s midterm elections, the conventional wisdom was that newly enthused Democrats, Republicans embarrassed by the antics of Donald Trump, and non-voters spurred into action by indignation at the state of their country’s leadership, would join forces to sweep the GOP from Capitol Hill.

As we know, this did not quite come to pass. While the Democrats gained 40 districts to take control of the House of Representatives, the Republicans strengthened their hold on the Senate, making a net gain of two seats in the upper chamber. Hardly the rout that Democrats had predicted – in fact, more like the tide flowing in both directions at once. What’s going on?

The straightforward answer is that the state-wide Senate elections included Trump-friendly small-town and rural voters, with the GOP gains being made in states it had carried in 2016. The competitive House races, meanwhile, were heavily concentrated in prosperous suburbs of big cities, where people take a more sceptical view of the President. My research during the campaign, which included focus groups in some of the key districts across the country, from New Hampshire to California, helped to illuminate some of the deeper dynamics of the race, and offered some signposts for what to look out for next.

Much about current American politics is explained by that fact that while criticisms of Trump focus largely on his personal behaviour, his supporters – including those who were initially reluctant – continue to separate this from his actions in office. Indeed, only one in three of those who voted for him mainly to stop Hillary Clinton say they approve of his character and personal conduct, but nearly nine in ten of them say they approve of what he is doing as President. This was confirmed throughout our midterm focus group research. As one woman in Iowa told us, “It’s like the CEO of the company I work for. I don’t care if you’re the nicest guy in the world. I care that we’re going to be successful and I’m going to have a job from day to day.” While critics are transfixed by his style, his electoral coalition is more interested in delivery.

As for what they think is being delivered, our Iowan’s example holds true. Again and again our groups mentioned the performance of the economy, which many attribute to a pro-growth, anti-regulation presidential agenda. This was a crucial point for many of those who had voted for him only reluctantly two years ago. “I thought he was a joke,” a man in California told us. “But being a blue-collar worker, being a construction worker, for commercial drivers the work has tripled for me since he’s been in office. So for me, OK maybe Trump is immature and he’s definitely not a politician, he’s a businessman. Maybe that’s what we needed.”

My pre-midterm survey found that when asked about various aspects of his performance, both his stronger and more hesitant supporters, as well as independents and voters as a whole, award Trump the highest marks on the economy and jobs. His combative approach to ‘bringing back jobs’ to America, renegotiating NAFTA and confronting China over international trade, is an important part of his perceived record in this area – as well as being, in the eyes of his coalition, an example of what can be achieved with a more robust attitude to diplomacy than they believed America has adopted for some time. The President’s face-to-face meeting with Kim Jong-Un and the freeing of American prisoners from North Korea are regularly mentioned as further fruits of a tough and unapologetic stance.

Two other issues have had a particularly galvanising effect on the Trump coalition. The first is his nominations to the Supreme Court, a matter whose importance to conservatives cannot be overstated. We found during the presidential election that this was a decisive factor for Republican-leaning voters otherwise sceptical of Trump, and he has fully delivered on their expectation that he would appoint conservative justices. Brett Kavanaugh’s explosive confirmation hearings in the weeks leading up to the midterms helped propel GOP turnout by reminding Republicans of the battle they were in.

The second was border control, perfectly highlighted during the campaign by the migrant caravan wending its way to the American frontier from Honduras. Though Trump’s hard-line approach to immigration has appalled its opponents and made some otherwise supportive voters uneasy, for his own people it falls into the category of ‘promises delivered’, as it has since the so-called ‘Muslim ban’ in the very earliest weeks of his administration.

All of these things help explain why the Trump coalition has held together as well as it has in the face of the furious controversy surrounding every day of his presidency, and why the midterms did not produce the Republican wipe-out many had predicted. But there has been some erosion, as the House results showed, and we must remember that two years ago he lost the popular vote and won by only a tiny margin in some of the states that gave him the edge in the electoral college. The 2020 race, then, looks wide open and depends on two things outside the President’s direct control.

One of these is the economy. To the extent that his support rests on growth and jobs, greater confidence and higher living standards, it could be vulnerable should these things fade. The point was made succinctly by John Kasich when I interviewed him in the Ohio Governor’s Mansion shortly before the November election: “I know that one guy that I grew up with said the reason he likes Trump is because his 401k [retirement savings plan] is improved. Now I don’t know what happens after the stock market tumbles. Does that mean he doesn’t like him anymore?”

The other variable beyond his power to determine is how the Democrats decide to play things. They managed to turn out their supporters, engage previous non-voters (2018 turnout was higher than for any midterm election for more than a century) and persuade enough former Republicans to switch to capture key Congressional districts, but it is as easy to take the wrong lessons from victory as from defeat.

The most misguided conclusion for them to draw would be that they are already on course for victory. The legendary Democratic campaigner Bob Shrum told me when I interviewed him in October that this danger was remote: “I don’t think after 2016 that there is the slightest chance that Democrats will ever again assume a presidential election is in the bag, at least those who were alive in 2016.” As one who had declared on TV “that no way no how, in no universe, not this one or an alternative one, could Donald Trump be President the United States, I don’t think people are ever going to get that complacent again.”

But as I found in my pre-midterm survey, few Democrats believe the party needs to rethink its ideas, and most think the key to victory is enthusing non-voters and their own base rather than reaching out to those who voted for Trump, however reluctantly. And as we found speaking to Democrats in the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, many are torn between the need to reassure moderate independent voters and their own yearning for a more liberal, progressive candidate and platform which could frighten away some of those who helped put them in charge of the House. In 2020, the identity of Trump’s opponent will matter as much as his record in office. The next chapter in America’s political story looks set to be as enthralling as the last.

Lord Ashcroft’s research, commentary and interviews can be found at LordAshcroftPolls.com.

Ben Roback: The year ahead in Washington – volatility is coming

From Democratic control of the House to the Mueller investigation, Trump faces a challenging 2019.

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.

This column started in January 2017 and since then the unpredictable nature of Washington and nationwide politics in the United States has only increased. 2018 has been a year like no other in American politics.

Few beside the President, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi can rightfully claim to know what will happen in the year ahead. But there is one thing that we can comfortably be sure of – that the volatile, hostile and febrile nature of politics will continue next year. At the risk of becoming a hostage fortune, below are four major themes that we can expect to dominate in 2019.

The White House tries to work out how to navigate a split Congress

Donald Trump has been accused of having little interest in pursuing a legislative agenda, often punting the heavy lifting to Paul Ryan, the Speaker, and the Congressional leadership. Whether interested in passing bills or not, in his first two years the President has overseen a major overhaul of the US tax code that has had real world affects for businesses and American taxpayers. For that one success, there were of course multiple failures – notably the repeated botched attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare owing to fractures in the Republican Party on the Hill.

2019 will present new challenges. The newly-elected Democratic members of Congress are for the majority progressive, ambitious and social media-savvy. The likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib have shown already that they are adept campaigners who can command media attention. They will be a thorn in the side of both the President and the Congressional Democratic leadership, by pushing the latter to the left on issues like universal healthcare and a New Green Deal.

Trump has the benefit of an expanded majority in the Senate, but will be hamstrung at every given opportunity by the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. It means that for legislation to stand any chance of passing, there will need to be a bipartisan spirit that has been desperately sparse in recent years.

On the face of it, there is little appetite for the two parties to reach across the aisle on legislation as both will be focussed on keeping their bases happy looking ahead to 2020. Despite that, there are emerging signs of policy areas where a bipartisan spirit is breaking out – last night, the Senate easily passed a bipartisan criminal justice bill by a margin of 87-12, despite ongoing efforts by hard-line conservatives to sink it. The First Step Act has made it past the Senate and now goes back to the House where it is expected to pass, and so will become law with Trump’s signature.

Crumbling bridges, potholed roads, and antique airports mean that infrastructure is another policy area where Democrats, Republicans, and the President could come together in 2019. There is growing momentum behind Congressional attempts to curtail the power of ‘big social media’, and next year expect more Silicon Valley CEOs to sit nervously before Congressional committees. But for the majority, arch-conservatives will still trade blows with the new band of progressives and little will get done before Trump enters the lame duck.

Newly emboldened Democrats consider how to use their Congressional power

Congressional committees – much like our very own parliamentary select committees – are rarely the most exciting element of Washington politics. But any Washington political native will tell you that they key difference is the hyper-partisan nature of Congressional committees, which are more a platform for tirades and positioning than forensic examination of the witness of the day (think Corey Booker walking out of the Judiciary Committee during Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing). With their majority in the House, Democrats will now chair all of the House of Representatives’ committees and with that comes the power to investigate the White House and Trump.

The New York Times has done a terrific job of asking the critical question: how far will they go? Having been bystanders reduced to loud protests in 2018, House Democrats will now have oversight authority and with it the ability to hold hearings, request documents, and issue subpoenas to uncover and expose what they suspect is the corruption going on under the bonnet of the Trump administration. However, it is possible that excessive use of these investigatory powers might backfire by making the Republican base even more steadfast in their support for the President.

History favours this precedent – this happened when Republicans instigated proceedings against Bill Clinton in the 1990s. The billion dollar question hovers well above the prospect of Congressional committee power – that of whether or not to initiate impeachment proceedings against Trump. It may become a question of timing and tactics, if impeachment seems an inevitability.

But it is worth remembering that the first rule of politics that you must be able to count. Whilst impeachment proceedings are initiated in the House, they require a two thirds majority in the Senate and there is absolutely zero evidence whatsoever that Senate Republicans will turn against their president.

Focus turns to elections as Trump enters the lame duck

Elections are never far away in US politics. There is a smattering of elections this off-year, including the regular gubernatorial elections in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi. An off-year, combined with a loose legislative agenda described above, means that Trump and what is expected to be a wide field of Democratic presidential hopefuls can begin to focus on 2020.

The President is at his most comfortable when on the campaign trail in front of a friendly crowd, in a state that he won in 2016. It means that fiery demands for border wall money and chants of “lock her up” are set to continue next year – ironic given the growing number of Trump acolytes currently under criminal investigation and facing prosecution.

We are now accustomed that style favoured by Trump, but less clear is how the Democratic race for the presidential nomination plays out. In all likelihood, there will be well over 20 presidential hopefuls setting out their stalls and canvassing donors and party members in Iowa and New Hampshire. The frontrunners are beginning to emerge, with Beto O’Rourke continuing to build up steam despite his defeat to Senator Ted Cruz in November.

The Mueller investigation looms large

Above all of the day to day machinations of politics in Washington, the investigation being carried out by Robert Mueller looms largest. There is still no clear date for when Mueller is expected to publish his recommendations, but Trump will be comforted that when the day comes he has a layer of protection in the shape of Matt Whittaker, the acting United States Attorney General. Whittaker’s opinion of the Mueller investigation is well known and he is far from a fan – in November 2018, he wrote that ‘Mueller’s investigation of Trump is going too far’.

Momentum behind the investigation continues to gain pace in the background, and in good time the Special Counsel is expected to present his findings. The key question is when and how that might impact the journey to the 2020 general election.

Michael McManus: We can’t let political theatre remain a liberal echo-chamber

Plays can be a useful pressure valve, and help expose their audiences to other points of view.

Over a decade ago, the departing Director of the National Theatre, Sir Nicholas Hytner, acknowledged how homogenous political theatre was in danger of becoming, expressing his hope that someone might write “a good, mischievous, right-wing play”.

Our premier political playwright, James Graham, chooses to keep his personal politics to himself, but there is no mistaking the respect and affection with which he treats traditional Labour in his superb play “This House”. Certainly, he, in common with the likes of David Hare or David Edgar, has never written anything that might be dubbed a “right-wing” play.

I don’t mean – and I am certain Hytner also didn’t – a wearisome alt-right polemic, merely a different vantage point from the increasingly well-worn, indeed near-ubiquitous, theatre pieces that “expose the manifest injustices and inhumanity of [insert Tory policy here]”.

I am a one-time Conservative parliamentary candidate and my first play, “An Honourable Man”, is now in the final week of its three-week run at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington (at the time of writing, a handful of tickets remain). It’s not for me to say whether or not the play is “good”: a great many people seem to think it is (though others disagree – see below), but it is most certainly intended to be mischievous.

This first experience of play-writing has been quite some roller-coaster ride. It won’t surprise anyone to be told that the personnel of theatre tend to lean to the left just as much as the writing does, so I was well aware I would be sticking my head above the parapet by chancing my arm in their world.

All the old hands counsel, “don’t read the reviews” (at least until the run is over), but, believe me, you do read them. We have had some excellent ones and some encouraging ones, some indifferent ones and also some outright hostile ones. I have been extremely fortunate in my cast of six – all are excellent and the lead, Timothy Harker, has deservedly received a prestigious award nomination for his superb performance.

What has attracted opprobrium is nothing they have done, rather the political context and content of the piece – and my (sometimes cold, sometimes satirical) depiction of a political world I really do know all too well. In particular, I have been vigorously criticised for raising the spectre of people’s fears about immigration – precisely those fears (as a very significant piece of polling by Lord Ashcroft adumbrated five years ago) that underpinned the 2016 vote for Brexit.

The brutal fact is, in June 2016 the political status quo was rejected by 17 million voters and they had their reasons. I believe passionately that, if this country is to have any chance at all of moving forward from its current existential crisis, even in a pro-Remain, Labour stronghold such as Lambeth, no, especially in such a location, some brutal truths about modern life do need to be faced; and theatre is precisely the appropriate “safe space” in which to do so.

My play charts the rapid political rise of a hitherto unknown Labour politician (Joe Newman) who, ousted by Momentum, ploughs his own furrow and sets up a new political movement that strongly echoes the 2016 Leave campaign: he proclaims the pressing need for a strong reassertion of national pride and tough policies on immigration, combined with a generous programme of investment in public services.

He at once recognises the limits of potential Tory support in traditional Labour heartlands, and capitalises on Labour’s “towns problem” – its increasing lack of connection with traditional, white, working-class voters – to some degree at least mirroring the 2017 Tory manifesto, which alienated Hampstead but turned Mansfield and parts of Stoke and Middlesbrough blue. In effect, my response to all the talk of a realignment creating a new “Democrats-style” party here in the UK is to posit that, perhaps, we might find ourselves with a “Republican-style” party first, built on the still-fresh foundations of the unprecedented coalition that delivered the 17 million-strong Leave vote in 2016.

This scenario certainly qualifies as “mischievous”, but is it really “right wing”? Not necessarily, yet there have been audible gasps in the room when Newman’s actress friend Liz – our principal proxy for everyone on the contemporary liberal-left – says she is “appalled” by her friend’s incipient anti-immigration stance. “Appalled?” interrupts Newman’s influential staffer Anne. “Appalled that the descendants of the people who built this country, who fought and died for it… Appalled that they want it back?”

This may make people uncomfortable, but the fact is, it is how millions of people feel – and simply shutting out such sentiments, or lazily denouncing them from the comfort of a well-paid professional or public-sector job within the M25, does not make those sentiments vanish in a puff of rhetorical smoke. Au contraireWhether this sense of alienation and sheer grumpiness is uttered in a working men’s club in Easington or a golf club in Haslemere (and I am well aware people are likely to be more indulgent about the former), it has been in the ascendant in recent times.

As that same character, Anne, puts it in the play:

“Millions of people… have been on retreat all their lives… The pits have closed, the factories have gone, their High Streets are ghost towns… Since the last war, their way of life has been completely laid to waste – and once, just for once, they were able to come together and be on the winning side… in the referendum… and who can begrudge them that? For once they won – and they won’t let that go. Nor should they”. 

After decades of political campaigning, it has taken a major adjustment of mind-set for me to switch from practised advocacy of policies to a more detached representation of them. No single one of the six characters on my stage could ever claim speak for everyone, but each of them approximately represents a segment of the political spectrum, ranging from the orthodoxies of the modern liberal left to Old Labour, to Brexit and beyond.

If theatre has any value at all, it must challenge our views, not just reinforce them. It should change perceptions, not serve to ossify them. If it becomes merely a cosy, cosmopolitan echo chamber for virtue-signalling, it might as well be dead. So, please come and see our play, while you still can. If you agree with any of its messages, that’s wonderful. If you don’t – well, that’s just fine and dandy too. The play’s the thing!

Ben Roback: From Presidents 41 to 45 – different backgrounds, different manners, different beliefs, and a different Republian Party

The older Bush was a man of free markets, small government, global engagement…and good manners.

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group.

The death of George Herbert Walkr Bush had the rarest of knock-on effects in the current political climate: it united Washington and bridged the political divides that have hang over today’s political and social culture. Regardless of one’s politics, it was impossible to look beyond a lifetime of military and political service that came to an end after 94 years.

The most memorable image was that of President Bush’s service dog, Sully, laying beside a flag-draped casket. Sully will return to America’s VetDogs, a charity that provides companions for former veterans and, in no time at all, America will return to a more combative politics. Bush senior is the first President to lie in state since the death of President Ford in 2006. Only 32 people have ever lain in state in the Rotunda, including John McCain who died earlier this year.

Donald Trump visited the Rotunda to pay his respects, having clashed in the past with the former President. To say their relationship was uneasy is something of an understatement. In Mark Updegrove’s The Last Republicans, the author reports that Bush voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, and called Trump a “blowhard”. The New York Times reported that ‘“at the mere mention of Trump’s name, 41 made a face. ‘He’s an ass,’ he snapped.”’

Whilst the visit was clearest manifestation of an uneasy peace, Trump’s attitude and approach to the living presidents that came before him paint a clearer picture of his attitudes to presidential predecessors.

The “Former Presidents Club” is one of the most exclusive groupings in the world. It has also traditionally been a rich resource for the sitting president to call on the expertise and experience of his predecessors. Not so for Trump, who tends to view those who came before him as adversaries who must to be sparred with. According to CNN, Trump has only spoken to George W Bush a handful of times, and has not engaged with Barack Obama directly since they parted ways in front of the Capitol building two years ago. Indirectly, of course, Trump finds reasons to attack Obama on Twitter with effortless frequency.

The current President has also found flaws with the non-presidential members of the Bush family. Trump decried Jeb Bush, a competitor in the 2016 Republican primary, as being “low energy”, while Bush in turn painted Donald Trump as a friend of Hillary Clinton. Trump has never been a fan of the Bush family legacy, and has said: “We need another Bush in office about as much as we need Obama to have a 3rd term. No more Bushes!”  During the heat of the 2016 campaign, Barbara Bush, the matriarch of the family, described Trump as a “comedian” and a “showman”. It was perhaps telling that after her death, the White House announced that Trump would not attend her funeral. It remains open to debate whether that was by choice or due to the lack of an invitation.

The former President was undoubtedly different from his successor, and not just in personality and temperament. In many ways, 41’s death could be seen to symbolise the death of what the Republican Party once was. Bush was a man of free markets and the emergence of the “small government” doctrine which (until Trump) has been the foundation of the mainstream GOP. On the global stage, the Bush presidency saw the emergence of the United States as the unchallenged power in a post-Cold War world. With it came a renewed commitment to American interventionism, and the firm belief that the US should seek to mould the “New World Order” – a phrase coined by Bush in a speech to the UN. This vision is at total odds with Trump’s pre-World War Two-style American isolationism and his ‘America First’ doctrine.

To the credit of the President and the White House, the memorial events of this week have been attended with respect. But, even then, the temptation of Twitter is only a smartphone away – and so, during a week of solemn reflection in Washington, we have had tweets about the Paris climate agreement, Robert Mueller, the wall…the list goes on. It was a fresh reminder of the new normal in American politics – that civility is a rarity and combativeness is a permanent requirement.

Political anger suits both sides in a country in which party loyalty is rewarded and bipartisanship punished. The likes of George H.W Bush and Senator John McCain, both of whom died this year, have become the exception and not the rule. Their approach to politics is that of a dying breed, replaced by new ways that waste no time worrying about national unity. With our own nation divided by Brexit, it is a desperate reminder to our political leaders to maintain a level of cooperation and class even when others around them are lowering the bar.

A day to honour George Herbert Walker Bush

This article was originally published on the anniversary of the former President’s election. We re-issue it today as news comes of his death.

This article was originally published on November 16, 2016.  We re-issue it today as news comes of the former President’s death.

On this day, over a quarter of a century ago, the best living former President of the United States was elected.  George Walker Herbert Bush is not the most eloquent man to have held the office.  Nor is he the most electorally successful.  Nor was he the most popular with his own party: how could he have been, when he followed Ronald Reagan?  Nor is he identified, like “the Gipper”, with representing a body of ideas, reflecting America back to itself, and changing the course of history.  But Bush was a fine President, in at least one way a better one than Reagan, and his reputation continues to grow – towering over the moral dwarf who succeeds him as Republican candidate today.

Admittedly, Bush travelled belief-light.  He wooed the Goldwater right when he ran unsuccessfully for the Senate, abandoned it once elected to the House of Representatives – where he voted for civil rights as a moderate Republican – stayed in the broad centre of his party when he contested the Presidency in 1978, and then tacked back to the right again when fighting the 1988 election, which he won in a near-landslide, carrying 40 states…only to return to the political middle ground once governing.  All this is a rough and impressionistic take on his progress, but none the less an accurate one.

What held Bush together as a politician was less conviction than character – and expectation.  He was born into the aristocracy of the Republican Party: his father, Prescott Bush, was an anti-McCarthy senator and Eisenhower’s golfing companion.  The family can trace its lineage back to the Mayflower: the former President himself, we read, is a 13th cousin of the Queen.  (Patrick Buchanan, who challenged Bush for his party’s nomination in 1992, mocked him as “King George”.)  “Poppy” Bush was the fourth family member to study at Yale, where he captained the baseball team, won a prize for “capacity for leadership” and was “last man tapped” for the Skull & Bones – “a distinction reserved for the leading Yale undergraduate of his day”, in the words of his biographer, Jon Meacham.

By then, he had already married his sweetheart, Barbara Pierce.  But there was more to Bush’s story to date than effortless superiority.  Volunteering to serve in the Second World War, like so many of his generation, he became the youngest pilot in the U.S Navy, and was nearly killed in action.  His plane was shot down while trying to knock out a Japanese radio transmission station.  His two fellow crewmen died.  Bush leaped from the plane, injuring his head on the back of it, and ripped his parachute, dropping faster because of the tear.  He was lucky not to fall into the hands of the Japanese, being eventually fished out of the water by an American submarine.

Post-Yale, following his father’s preference for making one’s own way, he turned his back on banking and headed down to Texas, where he did well enough in the oil business (though he didn’t make a fortune).  But the weight of political – indeed, presidential – expectation already hung heavily on him, as it had done even before he entered Yale.  Texas was risky political country for a Republican in the 1960s, and Bush first lost a Senate race before winning a seat in the House…and then contesting the Senate again and losing again.  But although he had already made an impression on his party, he never quite made it, in this early stage of his career, to the Vice-Presidential slot on the Republican ticket that he was tipped for.

Instead came a series of glittering appointments marred by ghastly timing.  He was America’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations at a time when the President who appointed him, Nixon, was widely distrusted abroad.  (“What am I to do with this turkey?” Kissinger allegedly complained.)  He then became Chairman of the Republican National Committee – Party Chairman, as we would say here – just in time for Watergate.  A interlude as Ambassador to China, a post that Bush asked for, was interrupted by his appointment as Director of the CIA at a time when it was mired in scandal and congressional investigations.

“Both George and Barbara Bush cried when they heard the offer,” writes another biographer, Timothy Naftali.  “It seemed to them to mark the end of Bush’s political career”.  Not so.  He performed creditably in the Republican presidential primaries before the 1978 contest, winning a raft of states in the north-east.  But Reagan didn’t want the runner-up on the ticket: he was unimpressed by Bush’s conduct during a showdown in New Hampshire, in which the latter was outmanoeuvered over the terms of a debate.  Reagan’s team originally wanted Gerald Ford as Vice-President.  But having a former President in the post would have been unworkable.  When Reagan came to realise this, and suddenly cast around for a replacement, the safest bet was Bush.

The vice-presidency is a tricky assignment.  If you try to do too much, you risk seeming to undermine the President.  If you do too little, you will fade away.  Bush was outstandingly loyal – there was no more talk of “voodoo economics” – and gradually won Reagan’s trust.  In particular, he behaved immaculately when the President was shot in 1981, shrewdly spurning an offer of taking a helicopter to the south lawn of the White House while Reagan lay injured in hospital.  “I’ll miss our Thursday lunches,” the latter wrote in a note to Bush at the end of his own Presidency, after scribbling the words: “Don’t let the turkeys get you down”.

Yes, Bush succeeded Reagan in 1988, having survived the Iran-Contra scandal, and having then defeated the Democrat candidate, Michael Dukakis.  Bush was judged likely to lose at one point, but a savage election campaign, led by Lee Atwater, turned the contest round.  Reagan’s successor as Republican candidate was distrusted on the right of the party, and Bush over-compensated in consequence, making his famous pledge: “read lips: no new taxes”.  It was one that he abandoned in office.  Perhaps in reaction to his predecessor, “the Great Communicator”, he didn’t strive to explain why.  Bush believed that action, and not words, would be enough: that the American people would grasp that the deficit had to be reduced without the case having to be pitched to them.

It turned out not to be so – and, in any event, there is a cycle in politics.  The Republicans had won three successive presidential elections, and America wanted change by 1992.  That the country had been in recession helped to drive the mood.  But Bush was right about the public finances.  “The deficit is big enough to look after itself,” Reagan once said, but to say so is to laugh reality off, or try to.  Indeed, Bush’s stewardship of the economy, by an irony of the kind familiar in politics, helped to pave the way for two terms of the man who defeated him, Bill Clinton.

Elsewhere at home, Bush got a lot done in his single term, working with Congress to improve education, expand free trade, protect the environment, and pass the Americans with Disabilities Act – the model for our own Disability Discrimination Act, steered through by William Hague under John Major.  And abroad, Bush brought all his experience to bear at a tumultous time.  His judgement call was to back Gorbachev, who he originally distrusted, and it proved to be right.  Bush eased the collapse of communism by not publicly celebrating the fact.  America was the dominant world power by the time Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and Bush used its position to form an overarching international coalition that took the country back.

The once-dashing pilot is now in a wheelchair, having made a final jump on his 90th birthday.  His presidency was flawed, of course, but all presidencies are – and it doesn’t look at all bad in retrospect.  A measure of the man is his attitude to the man who beat him.  “Dear Bill,” he wrote in a note to Clinton, as he himself left the White House, There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.  You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you. Good luck – George.”

Ben Roback: The midterm elections two weeks on – the blue ripple builds momentum

It was an election that had something for everyone. And one that therefore leaves the future uncertain.

Ben Roback is Head of Trade and International Policy at Cicero Group and a member of the US Embassy’s Young Leader’s UK programme.

In our midterm election preview on October 24th, we looked ahead to the midterms, wary of making predictions that were too bold or that got too carried away in the narratives of ‘blue waves’ or ‘red resurgences’. Two weeks after the midterm elections and with only a small handful of results left to call, what do we now know?

The races that were too close to call

With just a few of races in the House of Representatives still to be decided, the Democrats have a net gain of 37 seats. The overall balance of power has therefore comfortably shifted towards the Democrats, who have 232 seats compared to the Republicans’ 200 as it stands. In the House, the Democrats have recorded their biggest gain since 1974. In the Senate, President Trump cheered as Missouri, North Dakota and Indiana all flipped from Democrat to Republican, whilst Governor Rick Scott (R) was declared the winner in Florida’s Senate contest after a recount. With the Mississippi recount that is due to take place shortly expected to go in the Republicans’ favour, the GOP majority in the Senate is expected to grow further from the current 52-47.

Of our four key states to watch, an even split between Republicans and Democrats

Nevada – The only gain in our list of four for the Democrats. Dean Heller, the incumbent senator,  was the sole Republican incumbent running for re-election in a state that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Heller’s position on President Trump has always been uncertain, a problem amongst a Republican base that has proven their loyalty to the president. Having initially said he was “99 per cent” against Trump, Heller fully embraced him during his campaign for re-election. Instead, the state fell to Democrat Jacky Rosen, who campaigned heavily on local issues and healthcare.

West Virginia – Senator Joe Manchin supported Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, an early sign that he was preparing to find a balance between progressive Democrats and registered Republicans in an often-conservative state. Manchin defeated Patrick Morrisey, the Republican West Virginia Attorney General, to return to Congress for a second term. Putting Manchin’s defence into context, West Virginia last voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in 2000, but in 2016 Donald Trump won the state by 42 points.

North Dakota – Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D) was extremely vulnerable going into this election, after the state voted for President Trump by 36 points in 2016. Re-election in 2018 was a step too far and North Dakota became a Republican gain for Kevin Cramer.

Texas – At the height of the ‘blue wave’ dreams in the minds of Democrats was defeating Senator Ted Cruz in Texas. A perennially polarising figure, Cruz displayed his political flexibility by going from opponent to keen backer of President Trump and his policy agenda. He held off a campaign led by Beto O’Rourke that could become a dry run for the 2020 general election. Despite the narrow loss, O’Rourke gave Democrats their best performance in a Texas state-wide election since 1990.

The three house districts that could have gone either way

Minnesota 8 – Republican Pete Stauber defeated Joe Radinovich in a seat that was held by Democrat Rick Nolan. Ranked a ‘Republican lean’ by the Cook Political Report, the district was something of a bellwether, in that it has shown recent support for both Democrats and Republicans. The district voted for Trump by 15 points in 2016, but Clinton won the state of Minnesota by 1.5 points.

New Mexico 2 – New Mexico’s second congressional district was so close to call that it still could go either way. With the outcome currently unconfirmed, it remains to be seen if Democrat Xochitl Torres Small has defeated incumbent Republican Yvette Herrell. Hillary Clinton won New Mexico in the 2016 presidential contest.

Florida 27 – Democrat Donna Shalala defeated Republican Maria Elvira Salazar in the race for Florida’s 27th Congressional District, vacated by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R). Like MN-08 (above), the district has a mixed record at the national level having voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 19 points, while President Trump won Florida by one point.

Two out of two gubernatorial races go blue

New Mexico – In a midterm election cycle of firsts, Michelle Lujan Grisham made history by becoming the first Democratic Latina governor in the United States. Her win flipped the New Mexico governor’s mansion to the Democrats for the first time since 2002. As a member of Congress, she became one of the leading critics of Trump’s immigration agenda, whereas her gubernatorial opponent was a member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Connecticut – Governor Dan Malloy wisely opted not to run for re-election, after his approval rating fell below 30 per cent. Ned Lamont retained the governor’s mansion for Democrats, defeating Republican opponent Bob Stefanowski. On the campaign, Lamont pledged to be a “firewall” between Trump’s policies and “Connecticut values.”

An extended election that had something for everyone

If you look at the House, it was a great night for Democrats. If you cast your eye on the Senate, it was just as good for the Republicans. The governor’s mansions are a closer split and next year Republicans will control 27 governorships to Democrats’ 23. So it was an election that had something for everyone – from progressives like Alexandra Ocasio Cortez in New York to newfound Trump loyalists like Cruz in Texas.

Democrats can look ahead to the lame duck period in between the midterms and next presidential election knowing they have real oversight powers to subpoena the president and his associates. Republicans know that there is still no frontrunner to launch a credible campaign against Trump in 2020. Americans are set for two more tumultuous years of divided politics, as both parties seek to build on the anger in both their bases that drove such high turnout in the midterms.

Iain Dale: If we had a government with Cox and Balls

Plus: Crouch’s revenge. Islam’s departure. Brexit, May’s prospective deal and Labour’s internal agonies. And: Trumpety-Trump as the President claims victory.

Iain Dale is an LBC presenter, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.

Oh, how the Prime Minister may regret crossing Tracey Crouch, who resigned last week as Sports Minister over gambling regulation.

Why? Because Tracey is writing the Prime Minister’s biographical essay for the second volume of The Honourable Ladies, a two volume book I am editing with Jacqui Smith, containing essays about the 491 female MPs elected since 1918. I’m sure that last week’s feeling of complete let-down by the Prime Minister will have no impact on the conclusions which Tracey will draw in her analysis of Theresa May’s career so far.

The main question we should ponder if whether she will have been restored to ministerial office by the time the book comes out next September. Or maybe it should be whether the Prime Minister herself will still be in office.

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So farewell, Faisal Islam. He’s been poached by the BBC as their new Economics Correspondent, replacing Kamal Ahmed, who is taking on a new management role there.

Faisal’s departure from Sky News could well trigger quite a substantial lobby domino effect, depending on who is appointed to replace him. Beth Rigby, currently deputy political editor at Sky must fancy her chances, and I suspect that Sophie Ridge is a leading candidate too.

Another standout internal candidate would be Niall Paterson, who used to be a political correspondent at Millbank, then covered the defence beat and now co-presents the weekday breakfast show.

If they want to look outside their own team, I’d say Tom Newton-Dunn would be a strong candidate. He has been wanting to get into TV for some time and recently lost ou narrowly to Deborah Haynes for the Sky Foreign Editor job.

Of course, whoever gets the job will operate in the long shadow which Adam Boulton continues to cast. He is Mr Politics at Sky, and I suspect Faisal always found it quite difficult to make his own mark. Adam is a giant among political journalists, and there will be some who would happily make a case for him to return to his old job. He was brilliant at it.

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Those of you who have followed this column for some time will realise I have a slightly puerile sense of humour. So be warned, here goes.

It was pointed out to me yesterday that if Geoffrey Cox had been a member of Gordon Brown’s Cabinet, there would have been a Cox and Balls in the same government. Arf arf. And that if Geoffrey had been in Parliament in the 1980s when the Tories held Hayes and Harlington, not only would we have had Cox, but also Dicks – as in Terry Dicks.

And, of course, in David Cameron’s day we’d have had both Cox and Willy (Hague). There is also a very large Johnson on the backbenches. And as for Jeremy Hunt…  [More, more – Ed].

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Tonight, I am supposed to be having dinner with a Cabinet minister. However, I’m prepared for it to be cancelled just in case there is an emergency cabinet meeting on Saturday morning. The speculation is that the Prime Minister has done a deal with the EU over Brexit, and that she will lay it before her Cabinet before putting it to a relatively quick parliamentary vote.

Who knows if these rumours are true? And as to the contents of this deal? Well, obviously I have no idea – but I suspect that it is a deal which no-one will particularly like, but that it will be one which we will all have to live with. I am not a flat earther on it, but I do believe that if we are to stay in the Customs Union beyond the end of the transitional period, it can only be described as Brexit in Name Only.

We have to be able to sign unfettered free trade agreements with countries all over the world. I interviewed Mark Regev, Israel’s Ambassador, on Tuesday, and he told me that scoping discussions with Liam Fox were already at an advanced stage. We need to be able to sign these kind of agreements on January 1, 2021. My suspicion is that there will be many countries who will think that it’s just not worth the candle if we remain aligned to EU regulations beyond that date. I hope I’m wrong.

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Assuming that the Prime Minister can get the support of her Cabinet for a deal – and I’d have thought that this is likely, – we can expect a vote in Parliament around the first week of December.

In the end, it may come down to how many Labour MPs will support any deal struck by May. Clearly, such an agreement wouldn’t meet Keir Starmer’s ludicrous six tests but, since Labour say that a No Deal Brexit is the worst of all worlds, you could argue that it could justify voting for the deal – and then tell voters that this is in the national interest.

I suspect that it won’t happen, but if Labour did go down that road I think they would garner an awful lot of support. My current bet is that the deal will go through because enough of its MPs will vote for it to counteract the Conservative MPs who vote against. That could trigger internal mayhem in the Labour Party.

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I predicted on Monday that if the Democrats won the House of Representatives, Donald Trump would still claim victory. Guess what? They, did – and so did he.

I’m not sure these results really change an awful lot. The Senate balance means that even if the House tried to impeach the President over the next two years, it would fall at the first hurdle.

Trump has a genius for portraying the victimhood felt by his supporters

The President is a cut-price Andrew Jackson, a touchy, uneducated, intuitive patriot ready at a moment’s provocation to get into a fight.

Donald Trump is a great performer. No one is better than him at displaying the hyper-sensitivity and aggressive uncouthness of a self-professed patriot who feels himself scorned by better educated liberals.

These qualities were on display at his press conference after the mid-term elections. Many people will feel they have better things to do than to watch the whole of this performance, which lasted for an hour and a half, but one can get the gist of it from this clip of Trump’s row with Peter Acosta of CNN.

What is to be done about such atrocious manners? Many Democrats feel the urge to punish Trump for being such a bad person. They search, and will go on searching, for ways to impeach him.

This reaction plays into Trump’s hands. It enables him to play the role of victim all the more convincingly. Look, he can say, the metropolitan elite really is out to get me.

He confects one row after another, engages in one tasteless stunt after another, precisely so that his critics will try to shut him up. The politics of grievance demands a constant supply of “enemies of the people”, and Trump has a genius for provoking counter-attacks which enable him to portray himself as their victim.

The President plays the misunderstood patriot, sneered at by the liberal establishment.

And the Americans love a performance. It is so much more entertaining to watch Trump take on Acosta than to witness some polite, balanced, responsible exchange of views between consenting adults in public.

Trump is a master of reality TV. And one of the reasons why he is so good at it is that he is so vulnerable. He really is very sensitive to the taunts and sneers of his betters. He puts himself on show, and a great many viewers who themselves feel acutely sensitive find in his performance something of themselves.

This is not a new form of politics. Andrew Jackson, President from 1829-37, played the same game. He too was a touchy, uneducated, intuitive patriot, ready at a moment’s provocation to get into a fight, and whenever possible to shoot his opponent stone dead. He had no programme, and is said only to have read one book in his life, The Vicar of Wakefield. But he had an unassailable set of grievances.

Trump is a kind of cut-price Jackson. He doesn’t actually fight duels, or only on television. But his supporters still admire his fighting spirit.

And the Left can’t get the hang of him at all, any more than it understands such populism on this side of the Atlantic. As Matthew Goodwin observes in The Guardian,

“The left has always struggled to make sense of national populism which seeks to prioritise the culture and interests of the nation, and promises to give voice to a people who feel that they have been neglected, even held in contempt, by distant and sometimes corrupt or self-serving elites. And today’s thinkers, writers and groups on the left have subscribed to a number of theories, all of which are incorrect. They claim this volatility is simply a shortlived backlash against something – whether immigrants or ‘the system’ – rather than a positive vote for what national populists are offering, not only more restrictive immigration policies but also a more responsive political system and more equal economic settlement.”