Does Brexit Mean Trump Can Win the White House?

Donald Trump at a news conference at Turnberry golf course in Turnberry, Scotland, on June 24. The author argues that the fact that Trump could so easily defeat 16 well-qualified opponents shows that the anti-elite sentiment that drove the Brexit vote in Britain is a more powerful force than some in the U.S. want to acknowledge. Carlo Allegri/reuters

This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.

There obviously will be a million postmortems written about why the United Kingdom opted to leave the European Union. My sense is that three issues fundamentally drove voters to pull the lever for Brexit.

First, there is a growing disconnect between the playing fields of Eton and the halls of power in London, and the countless high streets in towns and villages across the U.K. The financial, media and political elite in the U.K. love the EU and the idea of one-worldism. They have thrived as they've waxed on about the importance of supranational organizations at Davos.

A majority of people, especially in England, however, are the ones who have seen what the EU and globalization can do to their industries and way of life. People quite simply want to maintain control over their sovereignty by keeping power in the hands of those they elect and not bureaucrats in some far-off city. As my colleague John Bolton points out: Leave's victory was a true populist revolt.

Next, the influx of immigrants over the last two decades occurred too quickly and during major economic upheavals in manufacturing, mining, fishing and textiles.

As a result, fairly or not, many citizens put the blame on the EU and immigrants for undermining their pay, taking their jobs and changing their communities. Perhaps had immigration been done more slowly and with an eye on what was happening outside of London, the environment wouldn't be so toxic today.

When Germany's Angela Merkel opened Europe's arms—the borderless nature of the EU under the Schengen Agreement expanded her reach far beyond Germany's borders—to refugees from North Africa and the Middle East, the immigration issue was surely going to drive the Brexit debate.

Finally, with the attacks in Paris and Belgium, the immigration issue added a dangerous element related to radical Islam and the flood of refugees from Muslim countries.

Unlike people, including second- and third-generation immigrants, raised in the West, many of the refugees don't see freedom the same way we do. There is a clash of culture that can be unsettling.

Ironically, the item that may have had more influence on voters may not have been the tragic killing of MP Jo Cox by a deranged right-wing extremist; rather, I submit that the decision by London Mayor Sadiq Khan shortly after his election to ban advertisements in London's transport network featuring women in bikinis and other scanty outfits may have been more concerning to voters.

For a country raised on The Sun's Page 3, seeing women in skimpy outfits is a part of life. Mayor Khan's ban may have been seen by voters as his implementing his personal Sunni religious beliefs.

What do the results mean for the U.S. presidential election?

I believe the results signal the rise of populism related to fighting the elite or the establishment is a more powerful force than some in the U.S. want to acknowledge. Americans feel that politicians have lied to them and let them down.

The fact that Donald Trump could so easily defeat 16 well-qualified opponents in a primary and remains close in polls to Hillary Clinton despite some of his pronouncements and actions is glaring proof of that reality.

Voters in the Rust Belt states of Ohio and Pennsylvania have a lot in common with voters in the U.K.'s Midlands. Similarly, immigration will be a key issue in the U.S. election, especially with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision effectively killing President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration.

Trump has championed building a wall, slowing down immigration and limiting entry to only Muslim immigrants who share "our values." These proposals gain strong support among Americans outside the Beltway and the coastal elites.

Lastly, after the attacks in San Bernardino, California and Orlando, Florida, Americans, like citizens in the U.K., are very concerned about terrorism and radical Islam. They want a leader who they believe will keep them safe.

Over the next five months, expect economic populism, immigration and terrorism to drive the U.S. election, as those issues drove the Brexit debate. If Trump can harness those three issues, he could win the presidency, which for the world's elite will be as shocking as the U.K. voting to leave the EU.

Matt A. Mayer is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.