Skip to main content
konrad yakabuski

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, for whom there are only two kinds of people in the world, would probably lump Jeremy Corbyn in with the losers. The front-runner to lead Britain's Labour Party lives like a pauper, wears socks with sandals and would nationalize anything that moves.

Despite their apparent incompatibility, however, these polar opposites in sartorial and political style have a lot in common. For starters, no one expected either to be a serious contender for his party's leadership. Each is so far out of the mainstream as to defy the rules of electability.

Yet, each has risen to the top of the pack in his party's leadership race by raising his middle finger at every convention of modern politics. Each brazenly speaks his mind. And just when you think he's said something so ridiculously verboten he could never recover, he rises five points in the next poll.

Indeed, these two are ideal candidates for the social-media age. They break the Internet with their impolitic utterances, sending the Twittersphere into endless chain reactions of retweeting and trolling. "Build the wall! Everywhere I go immigrants have our jobs," @realDonaldTrump tweets. Within seconds, another U.S. civil war erupts in a fury of 140-character bullets.

In Mr. Corbyn's case, what sets social media on fire is the nonchalance with which he proposes such eye-popping ideas as reinstating a version of Labour's Clause IV, calling for the socialization of the means of production, or introducing women-only train cars on public transit. To his millennial followers, these are new and exciting policies, rather than retreads from a failed past.

The British and American media don't know what to make of these unconventional political sensations. Both are already so sensational that it's hard even for Britain's tabloids or U.S. cable news to torque their coverage. CNN and its counterparts have given up, running Mr. Trump's rambling speeches live and unfiltered. It defies all the rules of journalistic fairness and balanced coverage.

It also obliterates any chance of Mr. Trump's rivals for the GOP nomination being seen or heard. Instead, they exist only to the extent that Mr. Trump acknowledges them with an insult. Jeb Bush is "low energy." Chris Christie is an Obama hugger. Mr. Bush has already raised more than $100-million (U.S.). But none of it can buy the free publicity Mr. Trump is enjoying.

The power brokers in Labour and the GOP are starting to panic. Republican establishment types fear the party's image has been irreparably damaged by Mr. Trump's anti-immigrant diatribes and muddled economic slogans. His vow to deport all 11 million illegal immigrants, build a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border and slap a 35-per-cent tariff on Mexican cars makes them cringe.

Mainstream Labour MPs are similarly fearful of the marginalization that awaits their party if Mr. Corbyn becomes leader. Many have already said they would refuse to serve in his shadow cabinet. Last week, the British media was aflutter about an alleged attempt by Peter Mandelson, a key architect of Labour's move to the centre under former leader Tony Blair, to get Mr. Corbyn's three rivals to invalidate the race by all dropping out at once. It's that desperate.

What has left the Labour and Republican establishments most perplexed is that the rank and file in their respective parties appear to be willfully thumbing their noses at the lessons of recent electoral defeats. For Labour, the party's move back to the left under Ed Miliband led it to its worst defeat in 30 years in May. But Mr. Corbyn makes Mr. Miliband look like a Blair clone.

Mr. Trump's trash talk on immigration and trade resonates with white, working-class voters, a cohort coveted by the GOP. But it is also attracting plenty of undesirables to the party. When one supporter shouted "White Power" at a recent Trump rally in Alabama, no one in the crowd seemed to mind. But angry white voters are a declining share of the electorate and the GOP cannot win the White House by further alienating Hispanics, blacks and Asians. Mitt Romney already proved that.

Mr. Corbyn has similarly created fear and foreboding among Labour moderates with his controversial support for anti-Israel groups and causes. He once declared that it was his "honour and pleasure" to play host to a delegation of "our friends" from Hamas and Hezbollah at the British Parliament.

It's amazing how such different men can each, in his own way, wreck what was once a perfectly good political party.

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct