LONDON — Opinion polls conducted around the world in the weeks before the U.S. presidential election reported just the kind of result you'd expect from such surveys: Except in Pakistan (not big fans of drones, them), most people overseas desperately desired Barack Obama's reelection and deplored the prospect of a President Mitt Romney. The Republican brand remains tainted by its unavoidable association with George W. Bush's failed presidency while, overseas at least, Obama retains some of the hope and glamour with which he swept into the White House four years ago.
Few capitals welcomed Obama's victory more keenly than London. David Cameron may lead a Conservative Party that has traditionally seen the Republican Party as its cousin, but the British prime minister made little effort to hide the fact he was supporting Obama's reelection. The official Downing Street Twitter feed was quick off the mark: "Warm congratulations to my friend @BarackObama. Look forward to continuing to work together." Cameron, who was on a trade mission to Gulf states while Americans were voting, told reporters traveling with him: "I am delighted with the result." Just in case the message had been missed, Cameron's press team released photographs of the prime minister telephoning the newly reelected president on Wednesday, Nov. 7.
So these are changed times. The Republican Party is now so toxic that even British Conservatives are wary of being seen to be too closely associated with their erstwhile transatlantic cousins. Pro-Republican voices in Westminster are now, at least at senior levels, in a minority. It did not help that Romney botched his trip to London this summer. Even without that, however, the known unknowns of a second Obama term were seen as preferable to the unknown unknowns that would have accompanied Romney on his journey to Washington.
Once not so long ago, this would have been considered inconceivable. U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher thought themselves kindred spirits whose joint mission was, in part, to revive their respective countries' morale at home while projecting strength overseas. And Thatcher plainly preferred Reagan's company to that of many of her own Conservative colleagues.
Their successors proved almost as close. President George H.W. Bush and Prime Minister John Major were pulled close by the need to respond to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait -- so close, in fact, that Bush's reelection campaign felt able to ask the Conservatives whether they had any dirt on Bill Clinton, dating from his time as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University. The Tories were happy to look on Bush's behalf but found nothing and succeeded only in ensuring Major and Clinton had a cool relationship when the Comeback Kid from Hope (Arkansas) won the White House in 1992.
Opposites have, of course, attracted before in this old so-called "special relationship." George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair were not obvious soul mates, but regardless of their differences on domestic politics, their responses to the post-9/11 world were instinctive and, in many respects, close to identical. Indeed, Blair came to admire Bush's clarity and ability to stick to a decision. It contrasted with his experience with Bill Clinton -- even though, in many policy respects, Clinton and Blair were comrades who viewed political and policy problems in much the same manner. While Bush and Blair were close on foreign-policy matters, it was the Tories who learned from Bush's "compassionate conservatism" agenda, which helped influence Cameron's own modernization project. That was then, however, before Bush's reputation became so poisonous.
So the Cameron-Obama relationship is unusual. It is hard to recall a transatlantic bromance like it. Not since World War II has a Conservative prime minister lavished such praise and attention on a Democratic president.
Not that it has all been one-way traffic. Obama hosted Cameron this March and, amid the usual Washington hoopla, took Cameron on Air Force One to Ohio, where the pair attended an NCAA basketball tournament game between Mississippi Valley State University and Western Kentucky University. It made for nice photographs on either side of the Atlantic.