(CNN)Donald Trump ought to keep a close eye on Britain’s vote Thursday on whether to leave the European Union.
The so-called Brexit has turned into a referendum on British identity, a debate about sovereignty and immigration that taps into all of Trump’s major themes. As such, the outcome will likely reveal the potential and the limits of angry conservatism — the kind of conservatism that repulses at least as much as it excites.
The EU is not a left/right issue in Britain. Support and opposition cuts across traditional partisanships. The basic arguments are these: the “Remain” camp believes a little democracy is worth sacrificing to be part of the European single market, while “Leave” believes Britain doesn’t get enough out of the bargain to justify being governed by foreign bureaucrats.
When the campaign officially began in April, Remain organizers had a clear advantage. They rolled out one expert after another to argue that leaving the EU would trigger a recession and give courage to the West’s enemies. Even Barack Obama said that Britain would go to “the back of the queue” when it came to seeking trade deals.
This is the problem now bedeviling Leave. It has to win undecideds who, by their very nature, lack the passion to be willing to join a holy crusade.
The EU referendum has proven that a constituency for anti-establishment anger exists in Britain. On Thursday we shall discover if it has a majority.
I shall be voting for Leave: I believe the EU is incompetent and that Britain should decide its own laws. But I’ll cast my ballot suspecting that what made the Leave movement possible is what might also, at the last minute, defeat it. Too much fire, too much heat.
Why Brexit vote should worry Donald Trump