Australian Upset’s Lessons for Trump Opponents

Rosalind Mathieson
Australian Upset’s Lessons for Trump Opponents

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A surprise election result in Australia will ring alarm bells thousands of miles away.

Defying months of opinion polls showing he was headed for a loss, Scott Morrison snatched victory from the jaws of defeat on Saturday to secure another term for his conservative government.

The left-leaning Labor opposition had everything going its way: An unpopular prime minister in Morrison, a government seen as out of touch, voters worried about job security and housing prices. So what went so wrong for Labor leader Bill Shorten?

His failure may prove instructive as Democrats in the U.S. move to select their candidate to run against President Donald Trump in 2020. For one, Benjamin Netanyahu's victory in Israel and exit polls suggesting Narendra Modi will triumph in India point to the resilience of conservative incumbents.

Shorten sought to contrast himself with Morrison with a left-leaning platform. Raising the minimum wage, taxing the rich, setting more aggressive targets on climate change and shifting Australia away from its reliance on coal. With such a detailed blueprint, he handed Morrison a long list of targets, with the overarching theme that Shorten’s policies would be costly and leave most Australians worse off. It worked.

Does that mean politicians should avoid setting out policy visions? Not necessarily. But one potential takeaway for the Democrats: Just because people don’t like the leader they have, it doesn’t mean they will automatically support the ideology of their challenger.

Global Headlines

Votes that matter | The EU election this week suddenly has an extra significance for Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz after his coalition with the far right collapsed. But Germany’s Angela Merkel is also under pressure from some in her party and Marine Le Pen’s nationalists are targeting Emmanuel Macron in France as the European establishment goes into battle against the populists.

Read more on the EU elections

Austria’s Kurz Goes for Victory Hoping to Pillage Populist Vote Merkel’s Successor Is Firefighting After Power Grab Backfires Macron Humbled Ahead of Le Pen Rematch: Postcard From Paris

Baiting Iran | Trump warned Tehran against threatening the U.S., saying if it “wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran.” The world doesn’t believe it’ll come to that. As Alan Crawford, Ilya Arkhipov and Gregory Viscusi report, governments worldwide are alarmed at the tension between Washington and Tehran, but Trump’s aversion to starting wars is keeping the anxiety in check.

Turning the screw | Top U.S. corporations from chipmakers to Google have frozen the supply of critical software and components to Huawei Technologies, complying with a Trump administration crackdown on China’s largest technology company. Executives of the No. 2 smartphone maker and leading developer of 5G wireless networks believe it will be able to resume buying from American supplies if the U.S.-Chinese trade dispute is solved.

Clear winner | Exit polls show Modi’s ruling coalition is poised for victory in India’s marathon six-week election. Although India remains the world’s fastest-growing large economy, Modi will face an uphill battle to ease rural distress and create millions of new jobs as unemployment hits a 45-year high. However, exit polls have a chequered history in India. Final results will be released Thursday.

Kirchner’s maneuver | Former Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s surprise move to run for vice president in this year’s election rather than seek a return to the top job reflects a strategy to rally the Peronist opposition behind a less-divisive candidate in a bid to topple Mauricio Macri. The big question is whether the left-wing politician would govern by proxy if her ticket wins.

Netanyahu’s gambit | After winning a new mandate in April and facing potential indictment on bribery and fraud charges, Netanyahu is exploring ways to shield himself from prosecution until he leaves politics, Michael S. Arnold and Udi Segal report. Critics describe the strategy as a threat to Israel’s democracy.

What to Watch

The U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative justices may leave clues about how quickly they’re prepared to cut back constitutional protections for abortion when they issue a list of orders today, with two disputes from Indiana candidates for action.  U.K. Conservatives are hurtling into a bitter leadership race even as Prime Minister Theresa May vowed one more push to get her unpopular Brexit deal through Parliament. New York is on the cusp of enacting a law that could help congressional Democrats gain access to Trump’s state tax returns. 

And finally... For an event that’s meant to be apolitical, Eurovision has again stirred controversy. Madonna’s performance in Tel Aviv ended with two of her dancers wearing Israeli and Palestinian flags in a move condemned by organizers. Then Hatari — a heavy-metal band from Iceland — unveiled a Palestinian banner, prompting a cut in TV footage. Even before it began, this year’s contest proved contentious, with musicians including Brian Eno and Roger Waters calling for a boycott over Israel’s policy toward Palestinians. 


--With assistance from Ben Sills, Alan Crawford, Karl Maier and Shivani Kumaresan.

To contact the author of this story: Rosalind Mathieson in London at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ruth Pollard at

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