British Prime Minister David Cameron’s onetime campaign manager Steve Hilton believes Donald Trump could get the keys to the White House.
“He’s identified some of the problems that have resulted in the malaise among voters about politicians and politics in general,” Hilton told me on Wednesday after Trump swept the Indiana primary and became the presumptive GOP nominee.
The man whose role in Cameron’s political career is often likened to that played by Karl Rove to George W. Bush made it clear to me he is not a Trump fan. In his words, “Trump’s not particularly interested in policy.”
But Hilton also believes Trump sensed voters were upset with the Republican leadership in Congress and ready to try someone different who represented “big change.”
“And he has been right about this from the beginning,” said Hilton, who now teaches at Stanford University in California and has a new book out on restoring what he calls “a more humanizing scale” to society—“More Human: Designing A World Where People Come First.”
Steve Hilton has been a confidant and friend of Cameron’s since they worked together in the Research Department of the British Conservative Party in the 1990s. In “Cameron: The Rise of The New Conservative,” the prime minister’s biographers Francis Elliott and James Hanning characterized the Hungarian-born Hilton as “the brilliant, obsessive strategist” behind Cameron’s dramatic triumph over three opponents to become leader of the British Conservative Party in 2007.
Three years later, with Hilton in the campaign helm, the Conservatives won the general election in the United Kingdom for the first time since 1992 and Cameron became prime minister.
Ironically, Hilton spoke to me less than 24 hours after his old friend Cameron denounced Trump as “divisive, stupid, and wrong.”
Following closely on the heels of a similar anti-Trump salvo from German Foreign Minister Frank Walter-Steinmeier, I asked Hilton, was it good policy for these foreign leaders to denounce the almost-certain Republican nominee for president?
“No, not at all,” he replied, “Because they just may have to deal with him as president.”
He also pointed out that “Trump did raise some very legitimate questions when he suggested NATO was obsolete. Was it designed for a different kind of world during the Cold War and is it suited to deal with Islamic terrorism today?”
But instead of replying to the questions Trump raised, said Hilton, the world leaders “just attacked him because he was challenging the status quo.”
Hilton also believed it is a mistake for the international press to take Trump’s tough talk on illegal immigration and liken him to controversial nationalist politicians in Europe such as Marine LePen, leader of the National Front (FN) Party.
“It’s a mistake to make that comparison, but you hear it all the time in the European press,” he told me, “Marine Le Pen represents a heritage of an ideology that is hostile to foreigners — a very unattractive ideology that I loathe.”
Although Trump may very well attract the same kinds of supporters as a LePen, the billionaire candidate is, in Hilton’s eyes, “not ideological — not for a moment. He’s a very pragmatic, problem-solving businessman.”
Hilton added Trump may have caused “tens of thousands of voters in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and elsewhere to change their registration from Democrat to Republican. It also assumes women, African-Americans, and other groups will just vote down-the-line for Hillary Clinton. And this could all be wrong.”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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