What if the extreme left and extreme right, instead of necessarily standing in abject opposition to each other, actually share some things in common – perhaps even more in common than they do with those closer to the center?
I believe such an unconventional way of looking at things, known as the “Horseshoe Theory,” has been shown valid in the 2016 US presidential race.
In the 2016 election cycle the extreme right and left have been united by a shared contempt for Hillary Clinton, the last candidate standing who can claim to represent any “moderate” political camp.
I do not believe the 22% of Sanders supporters reported to favor Trump over Clinton can be explained only because Hillary is the only other option.
A comparable overlap in favor of Trump and Sanders over Clinton still existed during the New Hampshire primary when other so-called “moderates” such as Jeb Bush and John Kasich were still actively campaigning.
So why would a statistically significant number (22%) of Bernie supporters prefer Trump to Hillary?
This projected Bernie-to-Trump crowd makes up just under 10% of the entire Democratic vote and the difference this crowd could make, is nothing to sneeze at should they be distributed among the right states.
So it would be worthwhile to examine some fundamental commonalities between Trump’s and Sanders’ political platforms and characters – and where relevant contrast both men with Clinton.
As it would turn out, both Trump and Sanders…
(1) …are dudes.
Starting with the elephant in the room, both Trump and Sanders are men.
(2) …present themselves as “Political Outsiders.”
Trump and Sanders both possess a drive to shake up the state of national politics, and have their own senses of charisma to certify their radicalism.
They both purport to come from the political fringes – and while neither of them can rival Clinton’s draw within the dyed-in-the-wool political class, this claim doesn’t hold up under scrutiny, however appealing it may be.
Can Trump really be an “outsider” with his long career as a business executive or Sanders with his service in both houses of Congress since 1991? Perhaps not.
But Trump and Sanders’ fresh perspectives combined with voters’ fatigue by the minimal amount of progress perceived to be accomplished by sitting Washington politicians renders the reality of their ‘outsider’ status irrelevant.
(3) …commit themselves to radical change.
Both Trump and Sanders have cemented their commitment to fomenting some sort of extreme change by reclaiming words and ideas condemned as “dirty” by the political elite.
Sanders, has reclaimed and made fashionable the word “socialism”, a word toward which most parents and grandparents of Sanders’ millenial supporters still hold bitter contempt by virtue of Cold-War era associations.
For Trump, almost every stance which he champions is presented as antithetical to the constricting culture of “political correctness”.
(4) …have politically prickly personas.
Sanders and Trump share a certain rough-around-the-edges and to-the-point charisma. Sanders is stubborn and slightly unkempt, but on the whole has a congenial and likable reputation.
Trump is a bully in every sense of the term, but is so transparent and unapologetic about this trait that it seems many voters find it forgivable.
Hillary Clinton, in contrast, possesses the intersection of these traits that people find most loathsome. Clinton’s career shows she can be trusted to change her opinion to please the voters, but does so with such calculated stiffness that she appears to favor the votes over the voters welfare.
(5) …are unshackled by major campaign donors.
In their funding practices Sanders and Trump share a similar aversion: receiving money from large donors (outside their own SuperPACs – and yes, Sanders has them too, though probably only out of his inability to control their formation).
Sanders is of course the champion of the individual donation, claiming over 2 million individual donations even before the Iowa caucus.
A recent CNN study into Trump’s campaign funds showed his primary-stage campaigning to be roughly 75% self-funded, with the rest coming from individual donations. Meanwhile, almost every other Republican candidate could be found courting the Koch Brothers in an elite gathering hosted by the latter party.
By contrast, Clinton lacked the personal net worth to be self-funding or the the interest in individual contributions, leaving her with an obligation to serve as a mouthpiece for major donors.
(6) …support isolationist foreign policies.
Trump and Sanders share powerful visions in the US’ withdrawal from international affairs of seemingly no benefit to the country.
Sanders believes in lessening the US’ involvement in the fight against ISIS, and Trump proposes a 45% tariff on imports from China to spur American job growth, along with allowing Japan and South Korea to possess nuclear arms in lieu of American oversight over the area.
Vows to scale back US involvement overseas appear a promising means for wooing American voters. In late 2014, a poll showed over half of Americans felt that too much of the national budget was being spent on other countries.
Meanwhile, Clinton has come under fire for her episodes of foreign intervention while Secretary of State, most notably in Libya.
(7) …present themselves as populists.
Their political narratives run in parallel, only with different antagonists.
Trump and Sanders would have us believe that the needs and the overall dignity of lower- and middle-class America have been hijacked by some external body which sits on a proverbial mountaintop smoking fat cigars.
For Sanders, this external body is populated by large corporations and the sitting politicians in their pockets.
For Trump, this external body is Latinx, brown Muslims, and whatever handful of other racial minorities may come to his mind.
(8) …are usually perceived as emotionally consistent.
In contrast to Clinton, both Sanders and Trump usually enjoy being perceived as emotionally standing for something.
Clinton has amassed a rather nasty reputation from the politically literate for calculated flip-flopping – undocumented immigration, same-sex marriage – you name it.
For the most part, what Bernie appears to stand for is what he actually stands for, has stood for for decades, and will continue to stand for, whether or not his views are popular or wise.
For Trump, though the frequency with which he “changes his mind” is beginning to catch on with the American public, this hasn’t proved a major obstacle to him yet.
While the specifics of even Trump’s most hateful policies may have shifted slightly, the core of antagonistic emotions behind them is unchanged – which is why I have described both men as emotionally consistent, though Sanders may be more ideologically consistent than Trump.
To recap, Trump and Sanders are (1) Male (2) Self-Described Political Outsiders (3) Radicals (4) Politically Prickly Personas (5) Supposedly Self Funded (6) Isolationists (7) Populists (8) Emotionally Consistent.
Perhaps the simplest way to describe the overlap between Trump and Sanders is the volatile mix of emotions both of their voters feel: excitement, inspiration, anger, vulnerability, and a faith in the unknown.
It would benefit Clinton to at least understand how to get in touch with such emotions if she wants to capture the greatest number of folks in Bernie’s camp; otherwise they may vote Trump in the general election.