I met with Nigel Farage, the charismatic leader of Britain’s Brexit Party, at the “Trump bar,” a lavish champaign lounge in the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C. He was wearing a dark gray suit and was holding a glass of gin and tonic in his hand. As we sat down at the table our interview was frequently interrupted by enthusiastic Trump supporters and politicians wanting to take a picture of, as Americans call him, “Mr.Brexit.”
“What, if anything, do you think explains the fascination of the American Republicans with you?”, I asked. “ Oh Gosh, you are asking an Englishman a personal question like that and expecting a straight answer”, Farage began recalling the time when as an 18-year-old he skipped university as “I could not waste three years of my life being taught by left-wing professors. I was highly ambitious at eighteen, probably a touch overconfident, touch precocious in some way, I fitted straight into the world of business.”
His first job was for a famous American Wall Street house Drexel Burnham Lambert where the motto over the front desk was “No guts, no glory”. The firm was the original inspiration for the movie, Wall Street. “I found very quickly that I had a good affinity with Americans and American businesspeople. Somehow, the way I speak, what my attitude is, or what my approach is, it just always worked in America. Louis Dobbs, the veteran Fox business broadcaster once said ‘Nigel, you’re more of an American’.”
Politically, however, a connection between Nigel Farage and America came through Brexit. Before the Trump phenomenon, there was Nigel Farage, the ‘original populist’.
Farage: They come into the room, from the conservative backbenchers, labor members of the House of Lords..they sit at the committees at Westminster and say, isn’t it terrible? And they go back, and still support their party.
“They call me a populist. I like to call myself a nationist”, Farage told me. What it means to be a nationist is that “I believe in the nation-state being the essential building block in which we wish to live. I was convinced that the European project was about the creation of a new state. I couldn’t see that effectively abolishing nation-state democracy was going to make the world a more peaceful, more prosperous. So I was kind of early to that. I decided that I would leave the establishment before even joining the establishment and fight them. I went to a few meetings of pressure groups, intellectual debates and I realized what’s the point? They come into the room, from the conservative backbenchers, labor members of the House of Lords..they sit at the committees at Westminster and say, isn’t it terrible? And they go back, and still support their party.”
Farage’s political beliefs were initially met with huge opposition, he says, in the media and within what he calls the metropolitan elite circles. He observed early on that what was happening in Westminster and what people were saying in his village in Kent were different things. “I realized the gap was enormous. So, that was what inspired me to do something about it. And as I set out on this course, everyone laughed at me”.
By his own admission, Nigel Farage has always been very individualistic. “I’ve always been a nonconformist. I look very conventional, but I was always a rebel”. Why would someone who oppose the European Union, join the European Parliament? I wanted to know. His answer was that “it was the only opportunity to get a voice.”
Enter Donald Trump
After the EU Referendum that took the world by surprise, Nigel Farage’s post-Brexit holiday was here, in the United States, at the Republican convention in Cleveland. There, he met with the Mississippi delegation, the governor of Mississippi, Phill Bryant, a big fan of the stuff Farage was doing. “He was watching all my speeches in the European Parliament”, Farage told me.
Governor Bryant was the one who engineered for Nigel Farage and Donald Trump to meet for the first time.“We missed each other a couple of years earlier. I was in New York,” Farage said. “We were supposed to meet in about 2014. But it didn’t happen. But Trump was very aware of what I was doing. He was aware of Brexit and what the process was. And he agreed with it. So I went to Mississippi. I was invited to speak at a private dinner. We go on to the basketball stadium for the Trump rally, and 10 minutes before the rally starts Stephen Miller says to me, we’d like you to speak at the rally.”
Nigel Farage is very protective of his private conversations with the American president: “All I can say to you is that Donald Trump’s style doesn’t appeal to everybody. He’s a real-estate guy from New York. He’s a New Yorker. That’s who he is. It doesn’t suit everybody. I have no problem with it at all. No problem with his directness. I felt that the first day we met and spent some time together. I like this guy. I believe in this guy. I like the fact that he wanted to fight. Because of Mississippi, my colors were nailed to his mast.”
Farage: ‘Theresa May laughed at me’
During the 2016 Election, Farage was one of the only public figures to predict a Trump victory. “I’ve seen Brexit and I thought this is the same phenomenon. It’s the same game. Nobody in DC will ever get this. They’ll never understand what’s happening in middle America.”
The same happened with the Brexit referendum where Farage said, “nobody in London understood”. Though it happened only two years ago, the Brexit referendum is already a significant historical event. Farage was willing to give me an inside look.
Farage: Here he is, this bloody idiot, Nigel Farage again. He’s so thick. He’s so stupid. We’re so much more clever than him. We’re so much better than him. That’s what they thought about me from the start.
“The Thursday before the U.S. election, I spoke at The Spectator dinner in London. They gave me an award. I was ‘insurgent of the year,’ or something like that. Everyone was there. Theresa May sitting at the front table. So I said, ‘Thank you for the award, this is great, given that we’ve had the Referendum, a lot of speculation about my future, I have to tell you the next Wednesday morning I am on the first flight to D.C. because I want to congratulate Donald Trump for winning the presidency.’ The whole room burst into mockery and Theresa May was hehehehe. They all thought it was so funny. So funny. Here he is, this bloody idiot, Nigel Farage again. He’s so thick. He’s so stupid. We’re so much more clever than him. We’re so much better than him. That’s what they thought about me from the start. And you know what? They still think that about me,” he said.
Episodes like this do not seem to bother Farage at all: he has developed a resistance to the public judgment of those who disagree with him. “I wouldn’t want to socialize with them. I wouldn’t want to meet them. I wouldn’t want to have dinner with them. I can’t stand them,” he says. “These are the most appalling people and I think Brexit needs to signal the beginning of a revolution about how we do politics, and who’s engaged in politics. So yeah, they are not my people. I don’t care what they think. But it was just amazing how they laughed. And of course, Trump won.”
The Gold Elevator
On Saturday afternoon, November 11, 2016, three days after the election, Nigel Farage was in New York, stepping into the gold elevator at Trump Tower on 5th Avenue alongside Arron Banks, the man who bankrolled Brexit.
Farage: Boris Johnson, wouldn’t even visit New York in case he’d bumped into Donald Trump. They all said horrible things, every one of them said horrible, disobliging things about him.
“We popped in to see Steve Bannon, and Kellyanne Conway said ‘Trump’s free, he’d love to see you.’ We went and saw him.” Farage said. He paused for a moment. “ I have taken more criticism, more abuse in the early days for supporting Donald Trump, than for anything I’ve done before. All the media hate him. He was not given a break by anybody. And yeah, in that sense it was hard, but it wasn’t hard because I believed in Trump. I have been unwavering. Boris Johnson, wouldn’t even visit New York in case he’d bumped into Donald Trump. They all said horrible things, every one of them said horrible, disobliging things about him,” Nigel told me.
Over the last four years, President Trump and Nigel Farage have met many times. “There were times when you [the public] know I met him, but there were times when you had no idea that I’d met him or spoken to him. I’d never, ever repeat a single word of what Trump said to me in a conversation, because he can trust me and I wanted him to trust me. Listen, we became friends through this,” Farage reiterated.
Trump’s critics say that he does not listen or take anyone’s advice. I asked Farage if Trump is willing to listen to him. “Donald Trump is a decision-maker and decision-makers are nearly always much better listeners than anybody ever gives them credit. I’ve watched Trump in conversation with different people. He listens. He takes in ideas. He makes his mind up. Oh, absolutely. He’s not told by some bureaucrat what he should and should not do. This guy’s a leader.”
Trump’s re-election 2020
This year, in late February, before travel between the USA and UK stopped due to the pandemic, Farage spoke at a CPAC event in Maryland. He received a loud cheer from the Trump supporters in attendance. He believes that soon, the conservative conference will come to Europe.
“Was CPAC a prelude for your official role in Trump’s re-election campaign?”, I asked. “No. I don’t have an American passport and that makes things difficult. But, do I intend, as an overseas person with a high profile, to appear on American media to comment on the contest as it goes forward? To go to the debates as they happen? Yeah. I am going to do all that.”
Farage: there is nobody in the democratic field that can even compete with Trump in those debates.
Farage believes that Trump is going to win the election in 2020 for three reasons. “First, there is nobody in the democratic field that can even compete with Trump in those debates. The second reason, Trump can go to the people and say: I have delivered on my promises. The third reason, whatever the stock market does with coronavirus, there is a very large number of American people who are better off now than they were when he first came to power. And for those three reasons, Trump’s gonna win,” he told me, 100% certain.
Nigel Farage believes that something has changed in politics worldwide. What we are seeing, he told me, is the public rejecting “these kinds of very goody two-shoe types, smooth, boring people becoming Prime Ministers. We’re now attracting personalities. They aren’t always gonna be pretty. The public just wants real people, with real views.”