Published on TheHill.com on September 1, 2015
How did a populist uprising create such enthusiasm and support for both Donald Trump, the glitzy billionaire, and Bernie Sanders, the self-effacing socialist senator — two polar-opposite insurgent candidates?
There’s a bipartisan revolt going on. The rank and file of both parties have said a resounding no to dynastic dinosaurs Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, the quintessential Washington insiders who promote the status quo and don’t get the revolution that is happening right in front of them. The trend for Clinton and Bush is straight down, because the voters are sick and tired of the insiders who play by their own rules and benefit from them.
Voters are desperate. Right now, only Trump and Sanders give them any hope that this country can be turned around. There’s a consensus among activists in both parties that the unique and cherished character of America is rapidly changing and that the presidential election of 2016 may be the last chance to rescue it. While Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump likely disagree about almost everything, they are tapping into the same font of populist anger swelling in both parties.
Underscoring their rapid gains is the massive popular discontent with the two dynastic choices who were in the process of being crowned for the 2016 election. The Houses of Clinton and Bush were locked, in the words of Time magazine, in a “game of thrones.”
As America sank into misery with a seemingly endless economic malaise, huge deficits, major job losses, glaring and rising income inequality, and a federal government whose growth knows no bounds, the dynastic remedies fell short — and we looked elsewhere.
Clinton’s email scandal and the growing consensus that she is a liar who cannot be trusted eroded her Democratic support rapidly. Bush’s weakness, his failure to stand out in the field, and his reliance on money and mechanics to win failed to inspire Republican voters.
Besides, Bernie and the Donald have a lot in common. They tell the truth, a contrast with Hillary. And they take strong positions on issues, a contrast with Bush.
Trump resides in the no-man’s land between what is politically correct and what we all know is true. We all know that illegal immigrants are committing a high proportion of our crime. But it took Trump to say it. Voters have long realized that China has outfoxed and out-negotiated us, stealing our jobs and pilfering our industrial innovations. Trump tells it like it is.
Sanders insists on going beyond the leftovers and table droppings of the Great Society and wants to move beyond into a new realm of liberal action. He not only wants to reform taxes, he wants to raise them. He refuses to cut Social Security and wants to expand it to cover those under 65 who are losing their jobs.
Even as Sanders closes in on Clinton and Trump lengthens his lead over Bush, the professionals discount their gains. They wait for Trump to self-destruct and for Sanders to marginalize himself.
But Trump is as sure-footed in public as any political candidate has ever been. He’s a bit like Ronald Reagan, whose experience speaking for General Electric likewise equipped him to advocate the unconventional and make it stick.
And Trump, a New Yorker, is at home with racial, gender and ethnic diversity. He knows the line between the unconventional and the bigoted and won’t cross it. He knows a land mine when he sees it. Those who hope that he will self-destruct might be in for a shock.
For his part, Sanders is more than the un-Clinton. He is creating a populist liberalism that in turn is creating a new constituency for his candidacy. Bernie Sanders will not go away, because his constituency won’t either. They are in the process now to stay.
Anyone who thinks Trump and Sanders are going away is in for a surprise.
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