Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party’s resounding victory in the United Kingdom’s general elections on Thursday is sounding a possible alarm for Democrats in the United States.
Johnson and the Tories outperformed expectations on Thursday, while the left-leaning Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, saw its worst showing in more than a generation.
It can be dangerous to draw too many parallels between the UK vote and next year’s U.S. elections, given the myriad of complex issues and personalities at play in Thursday’s parliamentary elections.
Yet because the “Brexit” vote to remove Great Britain from the European Union in 2016 was seen as a harbinger for President Trump’s victory, it was impossible for U.S. politicians themselves to not draw comparisons.
Speaking in the Oval Office on Friday, Trump congratulated Johnson on his party’s win and suggested that the Conservative victory may portend his own success in 2020.
“I want to congratulate Boris Johnson on a terrific victory. I think that might be a harbinger of what’s to come in our country. It was last time,” Trump said, referring to the U.K.’s unexpected vote to leave the E.U. in 2016, just months before his own election. “This was a tremendous victory last night, and it’s very interesting.”
On Thursday night in San Francisco as the scale of Johnson’s victory became clear, former Vice President Joe Biden suggested it was a warning for his party, which is considering centrist and liberal candidates for president.
“Boris Johnson is winning in a walk,” said Biden, the leading moderate in the Democratic race. He predicted headlines that say: “Look what happens when the Labour Party moves so, so far to the left. It comes up with ideas that are not able to be contained within a rational basis quickly.”
“You’re also going to see people saying, my god, Boris Johnson, who is kind of a physical and emotional clone of the president, is able to win,” he added.
Democrats are consumed with ensuring the Trump presidency does not enter a second term, and strategists and pundits were quickly interpreting the results in the United Kingdom for U.S. voters trying to make up their minds on a Democratic nominee.
“The voters who we both animated and won back in 2018, they’re very unlikely to vote for someone like Bernie Sanders. That is just a fact,” said Democratic strategist Jon Reinish. “We should not nominate someone who, yes, may motivate the base of our base, but if given a choice would be unpalatable to the broader electorate.”
Reinish cautioned against reading too far into the U.K. election results, but he said that when voters are given the choice between two extremes – in the U.K.’s case, Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader – they’re likely to stick with what they know.
“Given the choice between a far-left ideologue and a stooge – but the stooge they know – they’re probably going to go with that stooge,” he said.
Much of Thursday’s election in the U.K. centered on the country’s efforts to negotiate an exit deal from the E.U. Johnson, a staunch supporter of the divorce, touted a simple message: “Get Brexit done.”
Corbyn and his Labour Party, meanwhile, ran with a message of sweeping change, including tax hikes for the wealthy and the nationalization of the U.K.’s major utilities.
That message, however, ultimately cost Labour the support of many voters in traditional Labour strongholds in the industrial Midlands and in the north of England, shattering the so-called “red wall” that the party has long counted on and mirroring Trump’s victory in a handful of the Rust Belt states known as the “blue wall” for their longtime support for Democrats.
Former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), a longshot contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, said that Johnson’s victory in the U.K. “should be a wake-up call to Democrats” in the U.S.
“Johnson proved that mainstream voters will not embrace an extreme economic plan that will cause upheaval, just because they are not fans of the conservative leader,” Delaney said in a statement.
Other Democrats brushed off the suggestion that the U.K. election will weigh on the 2020 presidential race in the U.S.
Jonathan Tasini, a progressive strategist and national surrogate for Sanders’s 2016 White House campaign, blamed Labour’s losses on smears and fear-mongering by Conservatives, but played down its parallels with American politics.
“Countries are different. Parliamentary systems are different in terms of how people look at elections,” Tasini said. “What I will say is the one thing Trump and Boris Johnson have in common is they’re phony populists.”
The U.K.’s election doesn’t come without its lessons, Tasini said, noting that Trump and Republicans have already sought to play into fears of socialism among American voters, just as Johnson and the Conservatives stoked fears of immigration and globalization among U.K. voters.
“It’s very effective if you can paint the so-called radical alternative as dangerous in a false way. I think the Tories did it in the U.K., and certainly the Republicans are ready to do it if Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren is the nominee,” Tasini said. “They’re using all these fear tactics and fear works very well in American politics.”
But if there are similarities between Trump and Johnson, there are also parallels between Sanders and Corbyn. Both are steadfast supporters of vast social and economic reforms in their respective countries, self-identify as democratic socialists and see themselves as political outsiders.
In the lead up to Thursday’s elections, Sanders’s allies spoke out in favor of Corbyn. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), an organizer for Sanders’s 2016 campaign and a leading voice in the progressive movement, shared a campaign video from Corbyn on Twitter on Thursday and encouraged U.K. citizens to vote.
Republicans are certain to draw comparisons between Sanders and Corbyn if the Vermont senator is the Democratic nominee.
Claire Sandberg, the national organizing director for Sanders’s campaign who advised Labour-aligned groups in the U.K. in 2017, offered a more explicit endorsement of the Labour Party.
“The Bernie team says #VoteLabour,” Sandberg tweeted on Thursday, as U.K. voters headed to the polls. “Solidarity with all the folks knocking on doors in the cold rain getting out the vote #ForTheManyNotTheFew!”