Is America Ready for Trump vs Sanders?

Bernie Sanders

© Shutterstock

February 01, 2016 17:48 EDT

In the case of Trump vs Sanders, Americans have a genuine choice between two anti-establishment figures. This could drive voter turnout in November.

US presidential candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are two very different figures, yet they share the same feature: They both oppose the political establishment that includes the media, the big corporations and lobbies, and most mainstream politicians be they Republican or Democratic. The establishment politicians claim they want to make things better for Americans—when they know this isn’t true—and that a thoroughly corrupted political system cannot produce the kind of candidates that truly benefit the masses.

In March 2015, Rob Andrews, former Democratic congressman from New Jersey, predicted that the final match-up in November 2016 would be Hillary Clinton vs Jeb Bush—the establishment figures facing off against each other. These are two rather familiar names, as both Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush appeared on the 1992 ballot, except that this time it could be the wife and the son of either of these former candidates.

The Donald

But in summer 2015, Trump rose in the Republican polls with his biting political statements, sexism, racism, and anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican and anti-Chinese hate speech. The more hateful and controversial his statements, the more political support he would get. The establishment initially believed that Trump was just a fluke who would collapse as soon as the summer was over. But he kept on climbing up and has never come down. For a short time, it was believed that Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon just as crazy as Trump, could compete with him until errors in his campaign made the Republican presidential candidate disappear in the background.

But what makes Trump so popular?

It’s the fact that he doesn’t speak for the political establishment. He claims that all the Republican candidates raise money from the big banks, big pharma, big defense, big insurance, big oil and other big lobbies. It isn’t surprising that they are all beholden to big corporate interests.

That was certainly the case for the union-busting Scott Walker, who was set up by the Koch brothers, but quickly dropped out of the race to save himself more embarrassment. Ted Cruz is the most promising of all Republican establishment candidates, though he tries to portray himself as the representative of the Tea Party and the evangelical right. But that is being a fake outsider, because the Tea Party is bankrolled by the wealthy oligarchs, and the evangelicals under George W. Bush were also financed by the rich, but were galvanizing the less educated, devout followers. Cruz or any other candidate would be nowhere without their mega donors behind them. The Republican base knows this.

So here they have Donald Trump—a smug, half-educated (though he graduated from Wharton), posh real-estate tycoon, reality TV star and multibillionaire— who can say whatever he wants without relying on the money of his fellow plutocrats.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump © Shutterstock

In his Facebook and Twitter messages, Trump emphasizes how he doesn’t rely on money from the donor class, and he receives positive feedback from the Republican base. The rest of his status updates are empty platitudes that range from demeaning his opponents or a minority to “making America great again.” The policy implication here is quite obvious: US voters will not really get anything from Trump except empty rhetoric, more tax cuts for the rich and harsher anti-immigrant policies. A Trump presidency will not put their kids through college, pay the rent or give them a job, but it will punish the establishment.

Feel the Bern

Among the Democratic contenders, there is a little bit more optimism. Bernie Sanders has a true social democratic agenda, making capitalism work for the working-class. Sanders started with 2-3% in the polls, while Hillary Clinton had been the “inevitable” candidate with 60-70% voter support. She had the name recognition, which continued throughout summer 2015 because mainstream media kept on accepting her as the inevitable Democratic candidate.

But there is something very different today, and even President Barack Obama had realized this in his 2008 bid: The power of the Internet, social networks and online alternative media mean that younger voters have a much broader range of news sources, and they are hungry for a political candidate who can provide better solutions to their pressing problems.

As the months went by, Sanders reached 25% of national support in polls, and he was narrowing the gap quite substantially in New Hampshire, the second state for voting in the US presidential primaries. Clinton was still 25-30 points ahead, but who would have thought that Sanders could gain so much momentum?

Then something strange happened. The summer turned into autumn, and around September the poll figures began to stagnate for Sanders. Vice President Joe Biden decided not to run. In late fall, Clinton looked like she would surge ahead. Historically, one might say that she deserves to be the first female president after the more charismatic Obama took the limelight from her eight years prior. But let’s be clear here: No person has a natural entitlement to the presidency, and people should select the candidate who is best for America.

On all political issues, Clinton is nowhere near as progressive as Sanders. She has formulated some progressive positions, but only after Sanders pushed them forward. When Clinton served as secretary of state, she was supportive of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and was open to the idea of the Keystone oil pipeline. When Sanders voiced his opposition, she swung against both. Clinton told journalists that she “evolved” on these issues. She had no strong position on the minimum wage until Sanders took the popular demand for $15 per hour, and she repeated the mantra but stuck at only $12 dollars an hour. She developed no clear plan for college access until Sanders pushed for free college tuition at public universities—and only then did she reveal a plan to “make college more affordable.”

To say this is “evolving” on issues is just plain stupid. Clinton was pressured to make concessions to Sanders, and when she made them, she pretended that her previous position didn’t matter. For people on the left who are serious about political change, this is a very bad message. If Clinton is so quick to change her position like the color of her clothes, what will prevent her from switching back to accepting the status quo once elected?

In some policy areas, that is rather obvious as is the case for the unwillingness to break up the big banks (huge campaign contributors of hers) or to create a single-payer health care system (with big insurers and pharma backing her). Clinton represents the rotten core of establishment politics.

In December, polls showed that even though Sanders was narrowing the Clinton lead in Iowa while building his lead in New Hampshire, he was still trailing by more than 20 points nationally. In comparison, in December 2007, Obama was trailing Clinton by an average of 10 to 15 points nationally. All signs pointed to a Clinton vs Trump match-up. But the latest January polls have indicated otherwise. Clinton is now in serious trouble because she gave up on both Iowa and New Hampshire, while nationally she only leads between by around 5-7 points. The national lead could quickly melt away, as Iowa and New Hampshire bring forward the political momentum as the presidential primaries begin on February 1.

Now, it is likely to say that Bernie Sanders will win the Democratic nomination for president.

People are feeling the Bern as they come out to his events, see his social media presence, and hear him speak on the most serious issues facing America. Clinton is clearly a seasoned politician, but beyond the same-old rhetoric, she has nothing to offer. Why? Because Hillary wants to be populist enough to get the popular vote, while not being too populist to prevent offending her mega-rich donors like the big banks.

This has been the story of the Democratic Party time and time again. As income and wealth became more concentrated, the Republican Party became a rich-people party, while the Democratic Party wanted to fake it both ways. That’s what the Bill Clinton New Democrat movement was all about, and that is what Barack Obama’s hope and change message was about.

With Bernie Sanders it is quite different. He gets earth-shattering small donations from voters, while rejecting the super PACs and other big campaign donors. With that structure in place, he can afford to offend the wealthy interests and say what he thinks is right: break up the big banks, create a huge infrastructure project, tax the rich, single payer health care, free college tuition and a higher minimum wage. Americans hear that and they love it.

Pro-Hillary media have tried their best to downplay the Sanders phenomenon. First, they had a blackout on Sanders. Second, they said that Sanders’ function is just to push Clinton to the left rather than be a serious candidate himself. Third, they tried to get Sanders to make personal attacks against Clinton, which the Vermont senator never does because he only cares about the “issues.” Fourth, they hammer Sanders on supposed inconsistencies with his issues, but he dismantles substantial attacks on his policies easily.

Now that he is rising in the polls, these tried strategies don’t work. So now, media outlets are really covering Sanders, albeit still less than what his poll numbers would suggest. Mahatma Gandhi once said: “First, your enemies ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Could this be the case for Bernie?

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton © Shutterstock

The Clinton campaign flips from calmness to panic. Daughter Chelsea Clinton made cheap shot attacks against Sanders’ health care plan for “dismantling” Obamacare, without mentioning that he intends to replace it with a more cost-effective and universal single payer program. Hillary Clinton tried to paint Sanders as a gun nut, which might be a smart move in a country polarized and shocked by senseless gun murders. But the strategy exhausted itself because Sanders proudly defended his D-gun lobby voting record. Clinton then said that if the electorate wants to guarantee a Democratic president, they should vote for the “moderate” one.

The November Match-Up

The polling shows that in the key swing states, Sanders defeats Trump and Cruz by significantly higher margins than Clinton, contrary to what Hillary has said. Why does that make sense?

Political punditry should convince us that the moderate figures can pull in more votes. Clinton is clearly the moderate politician, while Cruz and Trump are evidently on the crazy fringe to the right, and Sanders on the left. Yes, in normal political times this might be true, but these are not normal times. Americans live in an economy where only very few people benefit from it. Many are working longer hours for lower wages, while almost all new income flows to the very rich, making the wealth distribution similar to what we had in the late 1920s. This is a politically and morally untenable situation, and Americans have had enough. They want change.

If Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, she might narrowly win the White House against Trump or she might lose against him, and that is because the left-wing Sanders supporters will be so furious as to stay home in the November 2016 election or even switch over to Trump to air their frustration against Clinton. Most moderate Democrats will continue backing Clinton, but the Republican base and many independent voters will stick with Trump. He is anti-establishment, and she is part of the establishment.

To show the corrupted nature of Clinton, one just needs to look at her visit of a family friend’s wedding ceremony in 2005: no other than Donald Trump. How much money did Trump give to her Senate reelection in 2006?

If Sanders wins the Democratic nomination, he will smash any Republican opponent. He will have the left-wing firmly on his side and most of the independent voters and moderates, who find free college and universal health care to be more promising than immigrant bashing and xenophobia. Sanders will even pull some of the Republican base with him, especially in the key swing states like New Hampshire or Ohio.

In the case of Trump vs Sanders, Americans have a genuine choice between two anti-establishment figures, and that will likely drive the voter turnout. The choices cannot be any starker, because one is a social democrat and the other is a fascist. A candidate of hope and a candidate of despair.

Electoral shakeup is the way forward in economically and politically challenging times. Democratic decision-making is hampered when neoliberal and oligarchic economic policies are the only tolerable mainstream positions. Anyone who begs to differ will carry the most votes. Syriza in Greece, Jeremy Corbyn in Britain, Trump or Sanders in the US. Even if the political economy does not change for the better, then even more radical solutions can no longer be precluded. Hopefully it won’t go that far.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Crush Rush / Joseph Sohm /

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