(CN) – The similarities are striking. They were both born in New York. They both have colorful hair styles and handsome girths. Both have led outrageous private lives. Both have fascinating, and international, biographies. Both are accused of being charlatans. Both come from privilege and are ruthlessly ambitious. Both came to prominence as liberals, libertines and TV personalities.
This comparison is between Donald Trump, the president of the United States, and Boris Johnson, the prospective next Conservative prime minister of the United Kingdom. One rival politician likened Johnson to “Trump with a thesaurus.”
There are, of course, many differences between the two men, who also admire each other and say they are friends; but a similar political story unites them at this moment of deep crisis in both the U.S. and the U.K.: They came to power courting fringe right-wing ideas while also appealing to lower-income whites on issues like immigration and crime.
Johnson is a 55-year-old mop-haired and bright blond journalist-turned-politician from a colorful family of politicians, journalists and artists. Johnson is the oldest of a brood of children known for their bright white hair.
He now finds himself in the place where he has wanted to be for years: At the threshold to Downing Street in what would be a shocking moment for Britain.
Johnson, like Trump, is a deeply divisive person with a checkered past. He's faced legal troubles over his spending practices, his professional conduct and allegations that he misled British voters in the 2016 Brexit referendum by misusing statistics that persuaded people to vote to leave the EU. In that campaign, he also used posters that were flat-out lies about how Turkey was joining the EU, and poised to flood Britain with immigrants.
“A demagogue not a statesman, he is the most irresponsible politician the country has seen for many years,” The Economist wrote in December of Johnson in awarding him the magazine's “Idiot of the Year” award.
Johnson rose to worldwide fame when he became the mayor of London in 2008. At the time, he was viewed as a socially liberal, eco-friendly and more gentle Conservative politician. He cut a comedic, bumbling and likable persona. He promoted cycling and gay marriage and was on friendly terms with then-U.S. President Barack Obama.
After leaving the mayor's office his focus shifted even more keenly on Downing Street. He ran and won a seat in Parliament for a second time in 2015. He arrived back in the House of Commons, where he had sat as a member prior to becoming mayor, at a crucial moment: His Tory party had called for a referendum to take place in June 2016 in which voters could choose to either remain in the EU or leave.
Famously, Johnson, who has long written newspaper columns even while serving in office, reportedly wrote two drafts of a column about the referendum: In one, he wrote in favor of remaining within the EU and in the other he argued for leaving.
He chose the path less trodden, and published the one arguing in favor of leaving – and in doing so became one of small group of Tory members who campaigned for leaving the EU.
Former Prime Minister David Cameron held the referendum in order to appease a vociferous section of the Tory membership angry over Britain's membership in the EU – the so-called Euroskeptics.