Trump and Sanders are more similar than most think

By Lucas Coughlin

Official Bernie Sanders Facebook Page
(Official Bernie Sanders Facebook Page)

These preliminary days of the presidential campaign may have dominated news coverage to a nauseating extent, but they have at least been edifying.

The two unconventional candidates who have generated the most excitement, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, owe their success to the same populist fervor. The anti-establishment mentality that often grips the American public is generally a healthy sentiment, but in this case it has manifested itself in two questionable figures.

In a tumultuous global situation, both Trump and Sanders have focused almost exclusively on domestic issues. The extent of Sanders’ foreign policy, to my knowledge, has been to suggest that other countries like Saudi Arabia fight ISIS in our stead.

The “issues” section on his website lists only one foreign policy oriented position – his support for the Iran deal. Sanders has avoided putting himself in positions where he is speaking about foreign policy, likely because he has nothing of substance to say. This is another clear area of contrast between Sanders and former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, but this may constitute an advantage for Sanders.

Clinton’s record as a secretary of state is basically a failure, and she has been embroiled in scandals revolving around her tenure in that role. All of this is compounded by her image as a jet-set elite who is out of touch with average voters.

Trump, too, might superficially seem to be a member of the elite, but his status as a political outsider, his penchant for blunt speech and his visibility as a former reality television star are the basis of his appeal. Like Sanders, he has focused on domestic issues, namely immigration.

Trump, however, has not entirely avoided global issues. In a recent interview with Hugh Hewitt, he failed to distinguish between Hamas and Hezbollah, and failed to answer numerous elementary questions.

Far from damaging his campaign, Trump’s supporters seem to relish such moments, proffering them as evidence of his dissimilarity from Washington’s elite. This is because Trump’s supporters are, for the most part, not typical GOP voters.

Republicans have long relied on the suburban, white collar demographic for votes and donations, and the “establishment” types such as Mitt Romney and John McCain have struck a chord with their moderate values. Trump, meanwhile, has garnered support from blue-collar workers, as well as from apolitical types who appreciate his cultural persona.

Trump’s values, which have been noticeably malleable throughout his campaign, veer far further to the left than the typical Republican, other than immigration. He is, in fact, in agreement with his counterpart on the left in Sanders regarding socialized healthcare, capital gains taxes, “assault weapons” bans, and campaign finance reform, among other things.

And it was Trump, not Sanders, who referred to CEO pay as “disgraceful” a few days ago. The greatest contrast between these two candidates is superficial: Sanders’ speeches are essentially a litany of policy points unrefined by any rhetorical flash or personal anecdotes.

Trump, meanwhile, focuses on no specific policy outside of immigration. National Review writer Charles C.W Cooke wrote that, in his speech in Alabama, Trump “offered up falsehoods and wild generalizations, fading any details that he attempted to recall into vague “somethings” and “just abouts.”

If Trump were to delineate any actual policy, he and Sanders might begin sounding very much alike.

Lucas Coughlin can be reached at [email protected].