Trump's McCain Moment: #Brexit

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Arriving in Scotland today to tout his golf courses, Donald Trump praised the British vote to exit the European Union -- even the immediate turmoil it was spurring in international currency and stock markets: "When the pound goes down,'' Trump said, "more people are coming to Turnberry, frankly.''

Back home in the United States, the Dow Jones Industrial average lost 2.5 percent of its value by midday, as markets assessed the impact of the #Brexit vote on a surging U.S. dollar -- and, with that, a gloomier prospect for American exports -- in addition to global economic unrest in general.

In what could prove to be an economic inflection point for the 2016 presidential campaign, the presumptive Republican nominee has run the risk of repeating the mistake that Sen. John McCain, the party's 2008 nominee, made at the start of the worst recession since the Great Depression when he declared that the "fundamentals'' of the American economy were "strong.''

"There's tremendous turmoil in our financial markets and on Wall Street," McCain said hours before Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy in September 2008. "People are frightened by these events. Our economy, I think still, the fundamentals of our economy are strong. But these are very, very difficult times."

While the instant reaction of international markets to the British referendum was not widely viewed as the threshold of another recession -- but rather a short-term sell-off -- the immediate events were being portrayed on cable TV at home as a good time for everyone to check the status and investments of their 401k's. The fundamentals of our retirement savings may not be so sound.

It also offered Democrat Hillary Clinton a prime opportunity to redouble her warnings this week about what impact a Trump presidency might have on the U.S. economy. Citing an assessment by Moody's Analytics about the likelihood for 3.5 million jobs lost to Trump's vision of international trade agreements, Clinton has dubbed it "the Trump Recession.''

"This time of uncertainty only underscores the need for calm, steady, experienced leadership in the White House,'' Clinton wrote in a personally signed note on her Twitter account today. Her campaign retweeted the words of another Clinton campaign account, @TheBriefing2016: "Asked whether he talked to any foreign policy advisors about #Brexit, Trump says 'there's nothing to talk about.'''

While echoing the White House's statement of respect for the decision the British have made -- a withdrawal from the European Union which President Barack Obama forcefully opposed before the vote -- Clinton said in a statement issued by her campaign: "It also underscores the need for us to pull together to solve our challenges as a country, not tear each other down.''

(Updated at 3:45 pm ET: And before the day was done, the Clinton campaign circulated a web video about Trump's comments in Scotland: "In it Fore Himself.'' ‏@HillaryClinton: "Hours after the #BrexitVote, Donald Trump was in the U.K. Talking about how he, personally, would benefit.'')

While Trump is away pitching his golfing enterprises at his renovated Turnberry course and visiting another at Aberdeen, Clinton is seizing a unique opportunity to underscore the contrast in her rival's world view of the economy with her own.

Trump is attempting to frame the referendum in a broader picture of global frustration with the misguided leadership of the elite political class. The British have "taken their country back,'' Trump said today in Scotland, and Americans will have a similar chance to "make America great again.''

"Come November, the American people will have the chance to re-declare their independence,'' Trump said in a note at his Facebook page after the #Brexit referendum. "Americans will have a chance to vote for trade, immigration and foreign policies that put our citizens first. They will have the chance to reject today's rule by the global elite, and to embrace real change that delivers a government of, by and for the people. I hope America is watching, it will soon be time to believe in America again.''

"I really do see a parallel between what's happening in the United States and what's happening here," Trump told waiting reporters at Trump Turnberry today. "You just have to embrace it, it's the will of the people."

Still, in the midst of roiling financial markets at home -- however short-lived or long-lasting it proves to be -- Clinton will be missing a distinct opportunity not to seize on the self-promoting aspects of Trump's endorsement of #Brexit.

While touting the benefit of a slumping pound for tourists at Trump Turnberry, he also suggested that running a golf course -- like this historic course that he has refurbished -- is comparable to running a nation: "You'll be amazed how similar it is. It's a place that has to be fixed."

As the Washington Post reported it, Trump "provided a widely broadcast infomercial for his newest luxury golf club, standing in front of a bagpiper and wearing a white 'Make America Great Again' cap. Resort staffers were instructed to wear red caps reading, "Make Turnberry Great Again."

When asked if he was traveling with his foreign policy advisers or consulting them, Trump said that he had been in contact with them but 'there's nothing to talk about.'''

As McCain learned in 2008 -- suspending campaign activities for a time in October to return to Washington and consult with his economic advisers about the unfolding economic catastrophe -- Trump may soon find there's a lot more to talk about when he returns home.

McCain was quickly changing his tune about the sound fundamentals of the American economy back then. As the New York Times chronicled at the time: By the next day, "he was calling the economic situation 'a total crisis' and denouncing 'greed' on Wall Street and in Washington. Meantime, he moved from adamant opposition to resigned acceptance of the big government bailouts.''

"The sharp turnabouts in tone and substance reflected a recognition not only that McCain had struck a discordant note at a sensitive moment but also that he had done so with regard to the very issue on which he can least afford to stumble,'' the Times' Michael Cooper wrote. "With economic conditions worsening and voter anxiety on the rise, McCain has had to labor to get past the impression - fostered by his own admissions that the subject is not his strongest suit - that he lacks the experience and understanding to address the country's economic woes.''

If the Clinton campaign plays its own economic hand right, Trump will find himself having to explain the same thing this summer.