By Jon Keller


BOSTON (CBS) – What does the Brexit vote mean for the U.S. presidential race?

Nothing – or perhaps everything.

It’s June. There are more than four months to go until Election Day, and in today’s warp-speed news cycle, the whole thing could be long forgotten by then. Experts are saying the vote will likely have little lasting effect on the U.S. economy beyond a brief stock-market dive (see Joe Mathieu’s take on the economic impact). And every poll all campaign long has said the same thing – the economy and jobs are far and away the top issues on voters’ minds.

In their immediate public comments you could see Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump trying to fit the story into their preferred campaign framework.

“This time of uncertainty only underscores the need for calm, steady, experienced leadership in the White House to protect Americans’ pocketbooks and livelihoods, to support our friends and allies, to stand up to our adversaries, and to defend our interests,” said Clinton in a written statement. “It also underscores the need for us to pull together to solve our challenges as a country, not tear each other down.”

Hillary Clinton. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Trump: “Come November, the American people will have the chance to re-declare their independence. Americans will have a chance to vote for trade, immigration and foreign policies that put our citizens first. They will have the chance to reject today’s rule by the global elite, and to embrace real change that delivers a government of, by and for the people.”

But in companion op-ed pieces for the Boston Globe, two ends of the political spectrum – Bush-era UN Ambassador John Bolton and left-wing academic and writer Stephen Kinzer – drew noticeably similar conclusions from the vote.

“Only a few members of the elite supported Brexit, but the middle class was overwhelmingly in favor,” writes Bolton. “The dispositive margin of victory, however, came not from the ranks of ‘the nation of shopkeepers,’ but from blue collar, trade union members. More than one-third of the working class, which forms the Labour Party’s political base, and perhaps as much as 40 percent, are estimated to have voted to exit the EU.”

(Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

(Photo by Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

Note that this is the Clinton campaign’s worst nightmare – that blue-collar workers and union members will bolt from the Democratic coalition in favor of Trump’s angry catnip.

Kinzer observes that the European Union “places utopian dreams of cooperation above the reality of nationalism. People want to be governed by leaders from their own ‘imagined community,’ not by outsiders. They want at least the illusion that they control their own fate. The EU has pretended this deep need does not exist, or that it can be wiped away with glittering phrases and promises. Ignoring the deep cultural roots of nationalism has not made it disappear. On the contrary, by attacking the principle of sovereignty so directly, the EU inadvertently fed the nationalist backlash that is now sweeping Europe.”

Voters fed up with being ignored or ridiculed by ruling elites and drawn to Trump’s explicit nationalism (“Make America Great Again,” “America First”) anointed him the presumptive GOP nominee. Trump has since worked hard to keep their numbers down by gratuitously insulting ethnic groups and generally acting the buffoon, but his core message – slathered over the red-meat issues of immigration, trade and homeland security – may well have broader appeal than the polls currently reflect.

Brexit may be long forgotten by the time November 8 rolls around. But if angry, anxious, change-hungry voters walk into the polls with Trump’s issues on their minds, Clinton’s soothing nostrums could be rejected as surely as the British establishment’s scare tactics were.

Jon Keller

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