The political world did a bit of a headspin in August when Donald Trump used a Jackson rally to ally himself with British Brexit proponent Nigel Farage.
Now a book, “The Bad Boys of Brexit” by Farage associate Arron Banks, provides delicious behind-the-scenes details of how a chance meeting between a staffer for Gov. Phil Bryant and Farage at the Republican National Convention laid the groundwork for that unusual political hookup — in Mississippi of all places.
This account summarizes key parts of Banks’ book that deal with the Mississippi angle of the political union of Trump and Farage — a political camaraderie that continues to this day. Farage was the first British politician to meet with Trump since he was elected president, ruffling the feathers of establishment politicians in the United Kingdom.
Brexit, short for “British exit,” refers to the vote Britain held in June to withdraw from the European Union. During his campaign, Trump called his candidacy “Brexit plus,” drawing parallels to the support he received from Americans based, in large part, on widespread frustration with establishment politics to the movement that resulted in 52 percent of UK citizens voting to leave the E.U.
As chronicled in Banks’ book, Farage’s Mississippi trip grew out of a pre-dawn encounter in a bar following the closing night of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in July.
Farage, who hours before had witnessed the New York business mogul’s official presidential nomination by the Republican Party, wanted one last round of drinks at 4:30 a.m. in his hotel bar before retiring for the night.
He and an associate sat down at the bar and happened to strike up a conversation with Gov. Phil Bryant’s aide John Bartley Boykin, who was staying at the same hotel. Boykin, who accompanies Bryant to nearly every public or private function, suggested that the popular British politician visit Mississippi.
Farage, “amid the alcohol-fueled joviality” of Trump’s nomination, assumed the invitation would not come to fruition, Banks writes.
But the following day, a formal invitation from Bryant’s office was emailed to Farage’s staff.
Thus began what Banks calls “one of the most extraordinary political journeys in Farage’s long career of extraordinary political journeys.”
By the time Farage stepped off his plane on Aug. 23 at the Jackson-Evers International Airport and into Gov. Phil Bryant’s blacked out SUV, he and two of his aides had drunk four bottles of wine.
Before the three boarded their plane at London Heathrow, they drank three “filthy cappuccino martinis” at the request of Farage, Banks writes. The team landed in Jackson “eleven hours and four bottles of red wine later,” he says.
Bryant’s office declined to comment on the events related in Banks’ book.
En route to the governor’s mansion in the state’s SUV, Banks writes, the team was given their itinerary. The following day — when Trump was scheduled to visit Jackson for a private fundraising dinner at the Jackson Convention Complex and a rally at the Mississippi Coliseum — Farage would be interviewed on Supertalk Mississippi radio with host J.T. Williamson in the morning, have lunch with top Mississippi GOP supporters that afternoon and speak before Trump at the fundraising dinner that evening. The day would conclude, Banks writes, with Farage attending — but not scheduled to speak — at the public rally.
They ‘hit it off’
When the SUV pulled into the main gate of the governor’s mansion downtown, Gov. Bryant and his wife Deborah greeted them eagerly, Banks writes.
“Nigel, it’s a great, great honor, thank you so much for coming,” Gov. Bryant said, according to Banks’ account. “I am so pleased to meet you.”
The two “hit it off immediately,” Banks writes.
Farage and his associates ate a state dinner at the mansion. Guests at the dinner “could not get enough” of the Brexit stories from Farage, Banks writes. Bryant then asked Farage to join him in his “man cave.”
“In real old-school style, the ladies said goodnight and the men went into the converted garage outside, which was full of motorbikes, old Chevy cars, comfy chairs, a full bar and the best tobacco the South could offer,” Banks writes.
In the garage, Bryant suggested to Farage that he speak on stage at the rally before Trump. Farage agreed to the offer before being driven to the Fairview Inn in Belhaven, where the British team stayed for the duration of their Mississippi trip.
By the time Farage joined J.T. Williamson on Supertalk radio the morning of Aug. 24, political reporters and other Mississippians had taken to social media to express their surprise — and even confusion — at his visit.
On the show, Farage explained that he was in the state to show support for Trump, a move that was sparking both national and international media attention. Cable news networks, already planning coverage for the Trump rally in Jackson that night, scrambled to prepare viewers for the surprise guest.
On the J.T. Show that morning, Farage talked mostly about the similarities of the Brexit movement and Trump’s candidacy. Farage called Mississippi “a proper place,” and J.T. said on air that the two talked about deer hunting during a commercial break.
“I’m going to speak tonight (at the rally), and the majority of that audience will be Republican,” Farage said on the radio show. “I want to say to them, don’t sit around and go to the local bar and complain about Hillary Clinton. If you want to change things, you’ve got to get your walking boots on. The parallels between people who voted Brexit and who could defeat Clinton here are uncanny. It can happen.”
More than a fundraiser
Later that day, Banks writes, Farage received a call from Steve Bannon, co-founder of Breitbart news. (Bannon was named Trump’s chief strategist earlier this week.) Bannon asked what Farage planned to say during the speech at the fundraiser dinner and rally later in the day.
That evening, Trump was scheduled to arrive at the Jackson Convention Complex downtown to speak to attendees at an invitation-only, $1,000-per-head dinner.
Initially, the sole purpose of Trump’s Mississippi visit that month was to raise money. A Mississippi visit in late August, 90 days from the general election, baffled politicos in Mississippi and nationally. When news of the fundraiser leaked, the state Republican Party added the rally to appease members of Mississippi’s strong conservative base that did not make the dinner invitation list.
“They put together the fundraiser first, and then tacked on the rally afterwards,” Pete Perry, chairman of the Hinds County GOP, told Mississippi Today at the time. “The campaign said, ‘We’ve got him here for another hour, what can we do with him?’ Doing the fundraiser isn’t unusual. The idea made sense. There’s not a lot of money to raise here, but they’ll raise it.”
Farage first met Trump in a holding room at the convention center shortly before the dinner. Trump walked in the room and immediately asked for Farage, who had a gin and tonic in hand, according to Banks.
“(Trump) strode over and gave Farage a bear hug, congratulating him on ‘a great job winning Brexit,’ “ Banks writes.
Two attendees of the dinner told Mississippi Today on the condition that they not be identified that Farage’s short speech mirrored his radio interview from earlier that morning, as the British politician talked mostly about the similarities between Brexit and Trump’s candidacy. When he finished, attendees gave him a standing ovation, they said.
‘This is nuts’
A few blocks east, thousands of Trump supporters packed the Mississippi Coliseum to await the candidate and his guests.
In his book, Banks writes that Trump was so pleased with Farage’s speech at the dinner a few minutes earlier that the candidate told his campaign staff to rearrange the rally’s schedule so that the candidate himself could introduce Farage onstage.
“Mr. Trump will start his speech, and 11 minutes in, he will call Nigel on stage,” a Trump aide told Farage and his team, according to the book. “Nigel will speak for six minutes and then leave. You all OK with that?”
Farage walked outside to smoke a cigarette “to calm his nerves,” according to Banks.
At 7 p.m., Trump walked onto the stage with Bryant, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. According to Banks, Giuliani’s scheduled time to speak was scratched completely to make room for Farage.
Trump walked to the podium, and a few minutes in, he introduced Farage. Backstage, Banks whispered, “This is nuts.”
Farage received subdued applause when he was introduced. Again he drew parallels between Brexit and Trump’s goal of “redeclaring American independence on Nov. 8.”
As Farage’s three or four-minute speech drew to a close, the crowd grew raucous once again.
“If I was an American citizen, I wouldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton if you paid me,” Farage said, garnering booming cheers from the audience. “Anything is possible if enough American people stand up against the establishment.”