By fall, it was no longer a joke. Prime Minister Theresa May had become dismally unpopular, and when a conservative website asked party members who should be the Conservatives’ next leader, Mr. Rees-Mogg got more votes than anyone else.
An interview on a morning TV show highlighting Mr. Rees-Mogg’s position on abortion — he opposes it even in the case of rape or incest — was expected to put an end to the chatter. But it appeared, for many, to have the opposite effect.
Voters understood that his positions were to the right of his party, but they had found a quality in him that mattered more than positions. He was, they said, “authentic.”
A decade ago, many Conservative Party leaders wanted nothing to do with Mr. Rees-Mogg. He first attracted national attention in the late 1990s, when he ran unsuccessfully for a seat in a constituency of raw-knuckled Scottish laborers, and went out to shake voters’ hands in the company of his nanny. (It was reported that they had campaigned in a Bentley, but he later denied this charge; it was a Mercedes.)
At that time, Tory leaders were intent on demonstrating a “common touch,” even if it meant obfuscating their own elite backgrounds. David Cameron, who attended Eton and Oxford, made a point of wearing jeans and riding a bicycle to work. Mr. Rees-Mogg’s sister Annunziata, who was then running for office, was lobbied (unsuccessfully) to shorten her name to “Nancy Mogg.”
Mr. Rees-Mogg had even less interest in restyling himself as a common man. At 12, around the time he was busted for running a roulette game during recess, he grandly told a radio interviewer about his stock-trading and his collection of antique silver.
At Oxford, his classmates seized on him as a figure of fun, and he played along, recommending that every student wear a morning suit and a mortarboard and remarking, “I do so like to cycle around Oxford with it on.” Then, as now, it was difficult to know whether he was serious.
But this air of being a cartoonish aristocrat is in large part schtick. Mr. Rees-Mogg’s father was not a grand landowner, but the influential editor of The Times of London, and his grandmother was an American actress, from Mamaroneck, N.Y. Though Mr. Rees-Mogg is very wealthy, most of his wealth was not inherited but earned during a 25-year career as an investment banker and fund manager, he said in an interview.
He made his home in Hong Kong for years, taking careful and tactical steps toward entering politics, until a promising seat came open in his home region, North East Somerset, in 2010. He then stopped managing funds, though he remains a partner in Somerset Capital Management, which has $8.5 billion under management.
Credit Andrew Testa for The New York Times
“He had the right connections but trod the path and the slippery pole like everyone else,” said Richard Harris, another British fund manager who met Mr. Rees-Mogg through a Hong Kong conservatives’ group. “He had no easy ride to politics.”
Margaret Brewer, a local Conservative Party official in North East Somerset, recalled that party leaders made repeated calls warning her and the other local representatives not to select him. “It was made quite clear that was not what they wanted in a candidate,” she said. Ms. Brewer was not deterred, though, and neither was Mr. Rees-Mogg. “Jacob doesn’t care what people think,” she said. “He must do,” she added. “But he doesn’t seem to.”
In Parliament, Mr. Rees-Mogg fell to the far right of the Tory spectrum, opposing climate change legislation and increased spending on welfare benefits and supporting tax breaks for bankers and corporations. In an interview, he said the Tory party must win a “battle of ideas” between the forces of the free market and socialism, and that its message to voters, especially young ones, had been too timorous.
“I think that conservative principles have a broad appeal and you should state them boldly, and the point of a Conservative election is to do conservative things, not to do Labour things but slightly less damaging,” he said. Voters today, he said, were drawn to politicians with more pointed views, both on the left and right, “because the centrist approach didn’t succeed.”
Mr. Rees-Mogg’s gentle, erudite manner made him a favorite among his fellow lawmakers, even those repelled by his ideas. But only with “Brexit” did the populist mood swing fully in his direction. Attributes that once made Mr. Rees-Mogg an unviable candidate — like his opposition, as a conservative Roman Catholic, to abortion under any circumstances — now make him look brave and honest, wrote Freddy Gray, deputy editor of The Spectator.
In the age of social media, Mr. Gray added, a comic persona also comes in handy. “It’s all part of the LOL, nothing matters, Twitter thing,” he said in an interview. “It’s dangerous, in a way, that if you don’t make yourself an obviously comical figure, or seem like you’re on the fringes, people will regard you with suspicion.”
As the Conservative Party conference approached — it begins on Sunday, and Mr. Rees-Mogg is expected to give as many as nine speeches in two days — moderate Conservatives sent up flares of warning. One of his colleagues in Parliament said she would quit the party if he became leader (though she added that she found him “incredibly charming”). Matthew Parris, a prominent columnist and former Conservative member of Parliament, warned that for a party struggling to modernize, elevating Mr. Rees-Mogg “would be pure hemlock.”
“His manners are perfumed, but his opinions are poison,” he wrote. “Rees-Mogg is quite simply an unfailing, unbending, unrelenting reactionary.”
Those hesitations had not reached Radstock, where Mr. Rees-Mogg traveled on a recent morning to meet with his constituents. Radstock was a mining town until the last pits closed down, in the 1970s. Among those waiting to see him was Scott Williams, a knife-maker with brawny forearms and the accent of a Hollywood pirate. Mr. Williams said he had always considered himself staunchly Labour, but was increasingly concerned about attacks on his personal liberties. He had fiercely supported Brexit.
“I belong in Texas,” he said. “That’s the type of person I am. I don’t fit in in England.”
Mr. Williams said he had paid little attention to Mr. Rees-Mogg’s voting record on taxes or welfare — “I don’t really keep count on politics” — but had been drawn to him in recent months, and was impressed when he stood by his hard-line view on abortion.
“Something I do like about Jacob, he’s a straight talker,” he said. “He is who he is. He may be blue blood, but at least you get a straight answer.”
Mr. Rees-Mogg was expected at a party gathering in Kent, so he climbed back into his Jaguar sport utility vehicle, a history of the Hapsburg dynasty queued up on the stereo. As he steered through narrow country lanes, past haystacks and swelling hillsides dotted with sheep, he denied any ambition to become leader of the Tory Party, or for that matter, prime minister. He said journalists tended to write about him when they had nothing else to report.
“I have tended just to plod along, really, and do what I’ve done,” he said. “There is no grand design.” But he admitted to enjoying the speculation.
“It was just a jolly summer,” he said. “It was all very amusing.”