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Donald Trump Is A Very American Version Of Justin Trudeau

The men and their ideologies couldn't be more different. But in key ways Trump and Trudeau rode the same path to victory.

Posted on November 9, 2016, at 1:50 a.m. ET

Chris Wattie / Reuters

NEW YORK — Justin Trudeau ran on an optimistic campaign of hope and hard work. Donald Trump ran on a campaign of anger, paranoia, and apocalyptic warnings.

But as I watched Donald Trump's rise and covered his campaign events this year, I kept thinking back to the three months in 2015 — That's the whole campaign in Canada! — that brought the 43-year-old Trudeau to power while his opponents mocked his resume, his lineage, even his good looks.

Trudeau was once largely known for silly antics, cartoonish speeches, repeatedly sticking his foot in his mouth. I'd heard that Tom Mulcair, leader of the left-wing New Democratic Party, once soothed supporters by saying he'd be worried about Justin Trudeau's academic brother entering politics, but not the lightweight son.

All that changed during Canada's 2015 election. Trudeau got a haircut and learned how to deliver a speech. He drew huge crowds that dwarfed his competition. And it wasn't just volume, it was the striking amount of genuine, passionate affection the people had for him.

Trudeau's events had a feel that is even now hard to articulate. But I can tell you that I felt a very similar vibe at Trump rallies.

Where Trudeau started as a dilettante, drama teacher son of former prime minister known for his good hair, Trump started as a TV game show host known for his bad hair.

But at rallies they were not just politicians, they were rock stars. They were saviors. Both Trump and Trudeau tapped into deep veins of discontent — for Trump, with Washington elites and, more disturbing, nonwhite, non-Christian Americans; for Trudeau, with an unpopular Conservative government.

For all the attention paid to the negative motivators of Trump's supporters, when you talked to them you would rarely see a more hopeful group of people. They truly believed the future of their country was at stake and Trump was the chance to save it.

Last month I sat at a hotel bar in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, watching a black man talk to an interracial couple about Trump, the purported champion of angry white voters. "He's going to win. I just know he is," said the man in a near-swooning tone.

"He'd better. If he doesn't, the country is really screwed," the Asian-American husband responded.

I felt then the same thought I had after watching a pre-teen boy, near tears, tell his parents he would never wash his hand again after Trudeau shook it at a campaign stop.

That thought was "What the fuck is happening here?"

American politics often feels like Canadian politics on bath salts. But when you cut the insanity by 50% to make the conversion, Canadians were facing similar apocalyptic fears. Progressives truly believed another term by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper would cause irreparable harm to their country.

Voting for both Trump and Trudeau didn't just feel good, it felt righteous.

But where Trudeau really laid the blueprint for Trump's victory is how the final leg of the campaign played out. As the Canadian election drew closer, soft voters on the left and the right pooled around him.

For Trump, it was the staggering number of undecided voters who turned into an avalanche in his favor.

There are of course countless differences between the two in tone, method, organization, and even basic interpretation of reality. But there was a similar crux to both of their victories.

There were doubts about Trudeau's competence, but people were willing to roll the dice. Many Trump supporters told me they were skeptical of if he could actually deliver on his promises, but for them too it was worth taking the shot. When the chips were down, casual voters wanted to be part of a movement. They erred on the side of a celebrity who felt like an outlier.

After all, the status quo can be a hard sell. Who doesn't want to be part of history?


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