Why Bernie Sanders Could End up in Trouble in a Match with Donald Trump
Despite the polls that indicate that Sanders would defeat Trump in a theoretical match up in the General Election (and by a higher margin than would Clinton in that same contest), what has yet to be seen is how the rhetoric of Trump’s campaign could shift in order to contend with Sanders’ economic rallying cry, and what this means for the swing voters that sit between them.
It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds to suggest that there is crossover between voters who support Donald Trump and those who support Bernie Sanders. Yes there are differences between the candidates (plenty of them) but, strangely enough, there are also similarities.
When it comes to speaking to crowds, both Sanders and Trump are engaging. Sanders invokes the righteous anger of the 2008 financial crisis to get his fans riled up. Meanwhile Trump employs deft sleight of hand showmanship to ignite that same fury, but attributes it to a different source—the myth of America as a failing nation on the grand global stage. Trump campaigns to “Make America Great Again” while Sanders campaigns to make the middle class great again.
Both candidates have held somewhat fluid party identities, with Trump identifying as a Democrat for many years before joining the Republican contingent, and Sanders holding office as an Independent before deciding to run for the Democratic nomination. Above all, both candidates are celebrated by their supporters for their straightforward approach to campaigning, political sensitivities be damned.
With so many angry people and so many angry candidates, how are voters choosing to which candidate to identify with? Trump has attributed the causes of America’s supposed failing to sources as varied as illegal immigrants, weak foreign policy, underdeveloped military, and poor economic decisions. According to Trump, these phenomena have not only weakened America’s standing, but have enabled other countries to rise in the vacuum created in America’s absence.
Sanders has also talked about a lot of things (a corrupt criminal justice system, a broken healthcare system, the rising price of higher education), but mostly talks about Wall Street. The billionaire class. The 2008 economic crisis and everything that stems from it. Sanders has made it his crusade to rearrange the current economic system in an effort to level the playing field. He has made it clear that he despises the current campaign finance process in which a candidate may receive large donations from companies, and the perception that follows that a candidate may choose to act in the best of interest of the donor rather than their constituents.
On ideology alone, the two are extremely different. However, what would happen if the two loudest, most fearless candidates came together to clash against each other in the national arena? Trump has not said much on the subject of taxes and campaign finance, but what he has said has been telling. Sanders advertises the fact that he does not rely on (nor does he accept) funding through Super PACs. Ironically, neither does Trump, but he doesn’t make a deal about it.
(So where does Trump get his campaign advertising? From the media. But that’s a conversation for another post.)
In recent stump speeches, Trump has warned voters against supporting Jeb Bush, labeling him as beholden to big name donors such as the Ford Motor Company. He has lobbied the same attacks against Ted Cruz for his (undisclosed) ties to Goldman Sachs and has leveled a similar charge at Hillary Clinton for her connections to Wall Street. In a campaign filled with anti-Muslim, anti-immigration rhetoric, Trump’s financial attacks are some of the quietest, least discussed statements that he’s made.
So the question is — Does Sanders have enough of a platform to stand on beyond denouncing the so-called corrupt campaign finance system? Absolutely. But will Trump supporters see value in what else he has to offer? That answer remains to be seen.