Donald Trump And Bernie Sanders Are The Souls Of Their Parties

Donald Trump And Bernie Sanders Are The Souls Of Their Parties

It’s kind of a funny thing. The two presidential candidates who are generating the most interest in recent days are the two who everyone is just 100% certain will never, ever win: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. And they’re getting press for rather different reasons. Sanders is drawing huge crowds across the country, making a strong showing in terms of fundraising, and creeping up in the polls. And Donald Trump is being himself, just more so. Between Sanders’s passion, and Trump’s wanton blundering all over the political landscape, it’s been a fun few weeks to be a political observer. In my dreams the fun doesn’t stop, and the 2016 general election will pit Bernie Sanders against Donald Trump.

That is, I admit, a long shot. At the same time, there would be something very appropriate about the match-up. Trump and Sanders, I submit, epitomize their respective parties. Yes, I know, Sanders has been an independent for his entire political career. True, he caucuses with the Democratic Party, but he is not, technically, a Democrat. Similarly, Trump’s relationship with the Republican Party is spotty. In the past, he’s donated to the Clinton Foundation. He’s flirted with running as an independent in the past, and won’t rule out the possibility of an independent run should he fail to win the GOP nomination. Both Sanders and Trump are very much outsiders to the parties that they’ve chosen to run within.

All that aside, I think my point stands. Both of these candidates, in their own unique ways, show something fundamental and important about their adopted parties.

Donald Trump is the raging narcissistic id of the Republican Party.

Sanders, I would argue, represents what the Democratic Party once was and what it could once more become. His populist rhetoric hearkens back to FDR’s New Deal and the optimism of JFK.  His seemingly radical and “socialist” ideas are widely supported by American voters:

“Sanders believes the rich do not pay nearly enough in income taxes and recently supported returning to the 90% tax rates established during Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower administration. Socialist moniker or no, a February poll revealed that 68 percent of voters said wealthy households pay far too little in federal taxes . . . Sanders believes, like many Americans, that ‘Instead of cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and nutrition programs, we should be expanding these programs.’ Many polls reveal that majorities of voters, including Republican voters, demand that Social Security is expanded and a poll last year showed that even Republicans in red states want Medicaid expanded. Most Americans also support expanding nutrition and housing programs.  In a January 2015 poll, it found that over 50 percent of likely voters agree with Sanders and support a single-payer healthcare system. . . It is almost a no-brainer, but over 63 percent of Americans completely agree with Sanders that it is imperative to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour ‘over the next few years.’ Americans want the minimum at $15 an hour by 2020.”

None of Sanders’s ideas are particularly radical. Nor are they explicitly socialist. Sanders himself identifies as a democratic socialist, espousing a system of governance similar to that enjoyed by those unlivable hell-holes in Scandinavia. And while these ideas aren’t particularly radical, nor are they new. They would not have seemed out of place in the Democratic Party of the 30’s or 60’s. It was only in the 90’s when, thanks to the Democratic Leadership Council and Bill Clinton’s strategy of triangulation, that the party began to drift rightward, becoming more explicitly pro-business and taking the support of its traditional constituents for granted.  Sanders seeks to speak to these traditional constituents, to labor, to the middle and working class. It is no accident that the vast majority of his fundraising has been composed of small donations.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, is the raging narcissistic id of his party. He represents, without spin or minced words, an unfiltered view of today’s Republican Party. It is a party of seemingly easy solutions that are, in the real world, completely impossible. He proposes to stop ISIS by bombing oil fields. Immigration? He’ll solve that by building a wall around Mexico and forcing Mexico to pay for it. He will be “the greatest jobs president God ever created,” despite having filed for bankruptcy four times. Trump’s sheer bombastic obliviousness is the Republican Party taken to its logical extreme. But there is no more telling fact than Trump’s continued and blatant anti-immigrant racism. He has refused to back down from his claim that Mexico is sending rapists, murderers, and criminals to the United States. And how has his party reacted? John Boehner has refused to condemn Trump’s idiocy, and the Republican electorate has catapulted him into first place. Buffoon though he may be, Donald Trump resonates. And he resonates precisely because he is the virtual platonic ideal of the party.

Of course, conventional wisdom says that neither Trump nor Sanders has a chance of winning the nomination. Sanders may do well in Iowa and New Hampshire, but then his path grows much more difficult. And Trump is just the flavor of the month in the overstuffed Republican field. The electorate will tire of him or he’ll get bored and go back to being a terrible businessman. And, as much as I love Sanders and as much as the sheer idiotic spectacle of Trump entertains me, the conventional wisdom might be right on this one. And that’s kind of a shame, because a race between Sanders and Trump would present a stark and unfiltered choice between the true Democratic and true Republican parties. It would be interesting to see how that turns out.

Image sources: Wikimedia Creative Commons, Flickr Creative Commons 

Image modified by Akira Watts