Picture this. An American supremacist who happens to be running for President poses at a rally with a small-fry politician from the UK who believes in restoring the glory of the British empire and probably supports bringing former colonies back under UK control.
Last night, outgoing UKIP leader Nigel Farage appeared at a Trump rally in Jackson, Mississippi, sharing the stage with Donald Trump himself. Farage has kept a relatively low post-referendum profile since he insulted the entirety of the European Parliament and announced his resignation as UKIP leader. Now he’s gone stateside, roaring for a crowd of 15,000 activists to “get your walking boots on” and declaring Trump and the Republicans can “beat the pollsters”.
The media on both sides of the Atlantic have lapped it all up. Of course they have. Parallels have long been drawn between these two bombastic, populist leaders who rail against the political establishment, champion extreme views on immigration, and have paradoxically foreign-born wives. A Dead Ringers sketch on BBC radio 4 in October even portrayed them as long-lost brothers:
But outside the newsrooms and TV studios, what does the general American public care about Nigel Farage? Most Trump supporters won’t even know who he is. This is not to disparage the vast swathes of white working class Americans who have been flocking to Trump – I doubt most Democrats know much about Farage and UKIP either. While the result of Britain’s EU referendum was covered internationally, the bitter campaign that consumed us here in the UK will have had little impact on the lives of millions of Americans who do not work in Silicon Valley tech firms or multi-national east-coast megacorps. Certainly the leader of a minor British party who enjoyed five minutes of European fame will not make or break a US presidential nominee.
In fact, the more you begin to look at it, the more Farage’s appearance begins to look like a desperate ploy with one aim only: get Trump back in the headlines. It doesn’t matter if American voters know who Farage is – American journalists do, and so do their editors. Last night was essentially a gift-wrapped press release, engineered to hit all the right buttons to provoke outrage and garner international media attention. As the narrative in recent weeks has focussed on Trump’s unravelling campaign and Clinton’s lead in the polls, this was his attempt at reframing the conversation.
It seems to have worked, for now. But with two months to go before the election, Trump’s move would seem a little premature, and he may have to up the ante if he wants to pull the same stunt again. Stay tuned for appearances at Trump rallies from Marine Le Pen, Silvio Berlusconi, and of course Vladimir Putin.