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Clinton And Trump Channel 'Brexit' Reactions Into Campaign Messaging


The move by British voters to leave the European Union comes just about four months before Election Day here in the U.S. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now to talk about how one could affect the other. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Now, Donald Trump happened to be in Scotland as the U.K. and the rest of the world were registering the Brexit decision. How did Trump play it, and what about Hillary Clinton?

LIASSON: Trump was triumphant. He was for the Brexit and in statements and fundraising letters he said it was a great thing. He said they took their country back like we're going to take our country back. In a press conference on his golf course in Scotland, he said this would be good for his business. He said when the pound goes down, more people will travel to Turnberry, meaning that U.S. dollar would go up it would be cheaper to go to England and Scotland. He also was asked whether he's discussed this with his foreign policy advisers, and he said there's nothing to talk about.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, said in this time of uncertainty it only underscores the need for calm, steady, experienced leadership in the White House. So it's pretty clear who she was not talking about in that statement. Her campaign also unloaded on Trump's response. They called it pathological self-congratulation. They said his first reaction was what's in it for me. So both candidates are using this earthquake event in Great Britain for their own purposes. But it would probably be a big mistake for either candidate or party to ignore the message of Brexit.

WERTHEIMER: Is there a message for American politics?

LIASSON: I think there is. The Brexit vote was a referendum on globalization. Donald Trump is the anti-globalization candidate. On Wednesday in that big speech attacking Hillary Clinton, he said there's a wave of globalization that wipes out our middle class and our jobs. So America first, which is Trump's slogan, is the equivalent of the leave campaign with its identity politics and populist nationalist anti-immigrant sentiment. So you could say the simplest prediction is that Brexit helps Trump, or at least amplifies his message. There's another way this might affect the U.S. election, and that's if the economic repercussions of the British divorce from the EU harm the U.S. economy. That would be bad for Hillary Clinton.

And then you have the fact that the sentiment against global elites has been consistently underestimated. You know, the markets had remain as the favorite to win, but there was, in the end, a decisive win for leave, and that suggests to many nervous Democrats here in the U.S. that maybe Trump's support is also being underestimated.

So in this election, if Trump is the equivalent of leave and Hillary is the status quo, she has a big challenge, which is how to acknowledge this populism and nationalism, how to say to voters who are tired of slow growth and growth that's not brief broadly shared that she has a plan for them.

WERTHEIMER: Now, Hillary Clinton's message that she's a steady hand in anxious times, you think that works for American voters?

LIASSON: I think it's a strong argument. It's also a reason why the Brexit vote may not be a direct parallel to U.S. elections. The U.S. campaign isn't just a referendum on globalization. It's also a referendum on Donald Trump. He has a powerful message, but he has a lot of deficits as a messenger. Another difference is that the anti-immigrant sentiment in Britain was in both parties, Labour and Conservative. Here in the U.S., the anti-immigrant sentiment is really only on one side - the Republicans.

WERTHEIMER: That's NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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