The ongoing success of Donald Trump is heralded as proof of Americans’ disdain for establishment, or party politics. In the very first debate, Trump refused to make the pledge that he would not run an independent campaign for president if he did not win the Republican nomination. A strong third party run could greatly hurt the left or the right, depending on which side it is coming from, but it could be particularly disastrous for the Republicans who are dealing with an increasingly shrinking voter base. Trump’s refusal was applauded by many of his supporters by being a (supposedly) refreshing sign of an independent individual in American politics. Trump’s capacity to give simple and direct answers to questions, even if these answers may make people uncomfortable, in conjunction with his willingness to butt heads with the Republican party itself has granted him the image of a gun-slinging outlaw here to fix Washington through the sheer force of his no-nonsense mentality. Yet, there is another anti-establishment candidate that is shaking up things in a comparable manner on the left who has failed to garner as much media attention, but hasn’t failed to garner the attention of many independents and people on the left – Bernie Sanders.
Bernie Sanders is a fascinating political phenomenon who has been politically active on the left since the 1960s, even participating in the famous march in Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. and has the title of longest serving independent in Congress. In terms of many of his policy positions, Sanders and Trump stand on opposite sides of the political spectrum – he wants massive tax hikes in conjunction with financial redistribution, socialized healthcare, free college tuition and campaign finance reform.
However, in terms of being an anti-establishment no-nonsense candidate, Sanders and Trump line up in many respects. Sanders has no problem openly declaring himself a democratic socialist and to point out that he his only running on the Democratic ticket as a matter of pragmatism – the fact that Sanders has survived in American politics for so long without ever making an effort to hide his political agenda as a socialist (which is still a “filthy” word to some Americans) is a testament to his political tact. But beyond his direct honesty with American voters and a willingness to take up what are conventionally seen as controversial policy positions, a great deal of the success of Sanders, and Trump as well, is the fact that they do not appear as fettered to special interest groups as other candidates.
On July 28, Trump tweeted “While I’m beating my opponents in the polls, I’m also beating lobbyists, special interests & donors that are supporting them with billions”. Trump has a recurring argument that he’s “too rich to be bought” and this could very well be true – the argument is that he has no need to appeal to special interest groups and thus is free to serve the American people directly. Sanders, though not able to support his campaign independently like Trump, is seemingly free of the shackles of big business as well. Sanders has routinely bragged about the fact that he has no Super PACs financing his campaign like other candidates. Super PACs have become so prominent in politics that the word has made its way into the Oxford dictionary as “a type of independent political action committee which may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, and individuals but is not permitted to contribute to or coordinate directly with parties or candidates”.
The claim that both Trump and Sanders are making is that political candidates must pander to these massive financial and corporate entities in order to achieve political success and thus they can never have the American people’s interest completely at heart. Sanders’ campaign is an anomaly in that it has almost matched Hillary Clinton’s, the Democratic frontrunner. Yet as is noted by Forbes, “While more than half of Clinton’s fundraising total came from donors giving her the $2700 maximum and only 17 per cent came from those giving less than $200, 88 per cent of Sanders’ donations… came in amounts of $200 or less”. The political independence of both Trump and Sanders make them incredibly attractive candidates to Americans who are tired of what they perceive to be flip-flopping candidates whose political success seems to come at the cost of moral principles.
Sanders has been picking up steam in terms of media coverage, yet has not received near as much as
Trump. A recurring argument made by Sanders’ supporters is that corporate media does not want to cover Sanders’ campaign because his political success would potentially hurt them as he is perceived to be less “business-friendly”. Yet, Trump who is seen as an outsider candidate has had enormous coverage – this may be because his policies just so happen to be business friendly or possibly because he is simply entertaining to watch.
The tide, however, seems to be turning in Sanders’ favor. A recent poll conducted by Quinnipiac University has the media abuzz – it predicts that Sanders will defeat Hillary for the nomination in June and would defeat Trump in a hypothetical general election by 13 points, 51 per cent to 38 per cent. According to the Inquisitr, 51 per cent of registered voters have an unfavorable view of Clinton while Sanders, “has a positive net favorability of 9 points”. Also, even if media coverage of Sanders does not pick up, it seems that everyday people are paying more attention to him as is evidenced by the increasing size of the crowds at his events. According to the Washington Post, “Aides distributed a tally showing that more than 34,000 people have now attended events hosted by the Sanders campaign since May, a figure that is certainly higher than either of his Democratic rivals”.
Sanders has always exuded a sense of optimism for his campaign. At his New Year’s Eve party he claimed, “Together, we can make 2016 a historic year, a year people in the future will look back on and say ‘thank you’ Iowa for leading the political revolution.” At first, this optimism appeared as bordering on the delusional, but now it seems to be increasingly converging with the realistic. Whether one lines up with Sanders politically or not, it is unarguably time to pay more attention to the outsider on the left.
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