On the surface, there’s not much in common between New Hampshire GOP primary winner Donald Trump and Democratic primary winner Bernie Sanders. Trump is a billionaire businessman; Sanders is a career politician. Trump’s personal favorability is the lowest of all candidates on either side; Sanders’ is the highest. But the impulse that drove New Hampshire voters to the polls for Sanders is the same as the impulse that drove them to the polls for Trump: the desire for a powerful authority figure to fix everything using the power of government. In fact, before the New Hampshire primary, CNN reported, “Because independents can register as ‘undeclared’ in New Hampshire and then vote in either party’s primary, the Vermont senator’s campaign has noted some of these voters are wavering between Sanders and Trump.”
There’s a reason for the confusion: Trump and Sanders aren’t that different on policy. Really.
They’re both anti-establishment candidates who bash Wall Street. Here’s Trump from his victory speech last night:
It’s special interests’ money, and this is on both sides. This is on the Republican side, the Democrat side, money just pouring into commercials. These are special interests, folks. These are lobbyists. These are people that don’t necessarily love our country. They don’t have the best interests of the country at heart.
Here’s Sanders from his victory speech last night:
We have sent a message that will echo from Wall Street to Washington, from Maine to California, and that is that the government of our great country belongs to all of the people and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors, and their Super PACs.
Trump and Sanders are on the same page on trade, which they see as a zero sum game at which America is losing. Sanders has described trade with China as “catastrophic” for our economy. Days ago, Trump admitted that he and Sanders mirror each other on the topic: “The one thing we very much agree on is trade. We both agree that we are getting ripped off by China, by Japan, by Mexico, everyone we do business with.”
Both Trump and Sanders want to do away with Obamacare in favor of a more universal system. Trump has been extraordinarily unclear on what he wants to replace Obamacare, but he vows that he’ll stop the “insurance companies…getting rich on Obamacare” and ensure “we’re going to take care of the people on the street dying.” Here’s Sanders last night:
Twenty-nine million Americans should not remain uninsured, an even greater number should remain under- insured with large deductibles and co-payments. We should not be paying by far the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs at a time -- listen to this, when the top three drug companies in this country made $45 billion dollars in profit last year. That is an obscenity, and let me tell you something. When we make it to the White House, the pharmaceutical industry will not continue to rip-off the American people.
Both Sanders and Trump vow to enshrine programs like Medicare and Social Security. Here’s Trump last year:
I'm not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I'm not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid.
Here’s Sanders last night:
No, we will not allow huge tax breaks for billionaires, we will not allow packed — huge cuts to social security, veterans needs, Medicare, MedicAid, and education.
And while Trump has run on the basis of a uniquely strict anti-illegal immigration policy, Sanders has historically opposed illegal immigration on the basis of driving down American wages: “Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. Real immigration reform puts the needs of working people first – not wealthy globetrotting donors.” This is straight from the Trump playbook.
On foreign policy, too, Trump and Sanders sound alike. Here’s Trump on the Iraq war from the last debate:
I was very much opposed to the war in Iraq. Lot of these guys were all for the war in Iraq look what’s that has got it. Spent $2 trillion, now handing Iraq over, just handing over to Iran…I’m very much into the military, will build our military better and stronger, that’s the — opposed to what we have now. I was opposed to the war in Iraq. Most conservatives, let’s go gung-ho. Everyone of them wanted the war in Iraq. Look where it got us.
Back in October, Trump said we should let Russia handle ISIS, and added that he wanted to cut military spending. Here’s Sanders from his speech last night:
As president I will defend this nation, but I will do it responsibly. I voted against the war in Iraq, and that was the right vote. While we must be relentless in combating terrorist who would do us harm, we cannot, and should not be the policeman of the world. Nor should we bear the burden of fighting terrorism alone. In the Middle East, the United States must remain part of an international coalition sustained by nations in the region that have the means to protect themselves. Together we must, and will, destroy ISIS, but we should do it in a way that does not put our young men and women in the military into perpetual warfare in the quagmire of the Middle East.
So why are Trump and Sanders soaring? Because they both represent a reaction to the corruption and entitlement culture of Washington D.C. – and both of those reactions are anti-democratic. Neither candidate ever talks about the proper role of government. They just talk about how they’ll increase its power to use it for their own purposes.
That’s what many of their supporters want. Many Trump supporters frequently comment that he “wins,” that he will “win” for America, that he’s capable of “making deals,” that he’s not beholden to anyone or anything. Sanders supporters say the same thing.
Many Trump supporters – the ones who believe he is a transformational figure – ignore the fact that Trump won’t change the nature of government in any real way. They’re looking for a singular authoritarian solution to the problems of their lives. They believe it takes a power broker to stop the power brokers. Hand Trump the ring of government power, and watch what he can do! He may not cast it into the fiery chasm from whence it came, but he’ll use it to fight Mordor sometimes.
Sanders’ supporters also object to a corrupt government – but they think that more government is the solution. They think the government is bought and paid for by outside parties, and they want an honest socialist dictator in charge to clean house. They want a Hugo Chavez to ride in on the wind and use the power of government to punish their enemies. Sanders may proclaim that his motivating feeling is hope, but the real motivation behind his campaign is bitter jealousy and petty vengefulness.
These are the wages of big government and an unendingly powerful executive branch. Too many people gain too much by its existence to do away with it; too many people want to control the guns and the money to back a true reformer. Every four years we now pick our dictator. It’s just a question of whether that dictator does the stuff you want, or whether you’re his target.