U.K., U.S. need adults to lead them

Britain's Theresa May, left, is applauded by Conservative Party members outside the Houses of Parliament in London on Monday. She has been elected party leader "with immediate effect" and will become the country's next prime minister today. (Dominic Lipinski/PA via AP)

Theresa May, who will become Britain’s next prime minister, said “Brexit means Brexit,” as she vowed to provide strong leadership during “difficult and uncertain” times.

The Washington Post reports:

“Prime Minister David Cameron said Monday he would step down in two days, clearing the way for Theresa May to become Britain’s next leader as the country plots its exit from the European Union.

“The announcement by Cameron came just hours after May’s only rival in the race to succeed Cameron — Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom — unexpectedly abandoned her campaign, saying the country could not afford a drawn-out political contest and needed to launch quickly into the complicated bargaining with the European Union over the split.”

May opposed Brexit.

Unlike London Mayor Boris Johnson, a loud pro-Brexit advocate, she has a reputation for seriousness, hard work, tenacity and prudence. She is the longest-serving home secretary in more than a half century.

While the job falls to her almost by default (Johnson, and more recently Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom, backed out of the race), it’s fortunate for Britain that a sober, experienced figure is now at the helm.

The markets think so, at any rate.

Americans will leap to compare her to Margaret Thatcher, the only other female British prime minister, who was also a member of the Conservative Party.

The Brits see another likeness. As the Financial Times reported:

“A more relevant comparison is made between May and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor: another non-ideological politician with a ruthless streak who gets on with the job. ‘If you think of what she’s achieved, you know, there are still people who don’t rate her, are a bit dismissive, perhaps because of the way she looks and dresses,’ May said of Merkel in 2012 in a rare personal interview with The Daily Telegraph. ‘What matters is, what has she actually done?’ ”

May has not been a magnet for controversy, a divisive figure or one lacking ethical ballast.

So in those respects she is unlike Hillary Clinton.

That said, Americans who saw a parallel between Brexit and Trumpism — a primal scream of frustration from the masses — might also see a similarity between Clinton and May.

Clinton is not, by her own admission, a charismatic politician.

Clinton does, however, attempt to project sobriety (some would call her dull), a mastery of policy and the image of a practical pol who can reach across the aisle.

It’s not a perfect parallel by any means, but the political pattern is an interesting one: popular frustration with governing elites, followed by a repudiation of their advice and a plunge into a half-baked idea fraught with uncertainty, only to be followed by a staid insider to manage the turmoil caused by the public rebuke of elites.

The United States and Britain have moved in sync previously.

Prime Minister Thatcher came to power in May 1979, to be followed in less than 18 months by her ideological soulmate Ronald Reagan.

Tony Blair became prime minister just a few months after President Bill Clinton — another moderate, specializing in triangulation — began his second term.

It is more than coincidence that Britain and the U.S., who enjoy a special relationship (going beyond just politics), should move in similar ways in response to similar circumstances.

If so, the U.S. may also be looking for a steady hand. In this election, the only one remotely meeting that definition currently is Hillary Clinton.

If the Republican delegates wise up, they, too, could find someone not only wonkish and serious, but unifying and ethically stalwart to lead the country and the party.

Alternatively, they could stick with Trump — who, like the brash media star Boris Johnson, really has no idea how to manage the crisis in confidence he helped exacerbate.

Jennifer Rubin is a columnist for The Washington Post.