What do Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have in common? That’s a question that will cause supporters for each of them to go berserk and be furious at anybody who would dare suggest any sort of equivalence. But like it or not, there are parallels; the most obvious one is that they’ve scared the daylights out of their entrenched parties’ regulars, who are suddenly realizing that one or even both of them could take the nomination.
Actually, we need to add fearless Ted Cruz to the Republican establishment fear list. Until now, Trump, Cruz and Sanders had been looked upon by the power players on both sides as supernovas, who would eventually explode and disappear as their star power collided with reality. It hasn’t happened, and now the old guardians of the Democratic and Republican go-along-get-along systems are starting to panic, worried that these upstarts will run roughshod over the plodding candidates who were either the anointed ones (in Hillary Clinton’s case) or the acceptable one. They are deathly afraid that any of these three outsiders may take them down on Election Day.
And get ready, supporters of these disrupters, to get really bent out of shape. There’s even more equivalence: Those who oppose Trump, Cruz and Sanders have a pretty basic complaint, which is that each is possibly not electable. In the case of Trump and Cruz, that’s because Democrats would hammer at their demagoguery, aimed at the worst instincts of those who are feeling economically fearful, encouraging their bigoted xenophobia. Sanders, on the other hand, is vulnerable not only because he’s an avowed socialist, which scares the daylights out of many Americans, but also because he exploits the same justified anger at a raw deal most citizens have suffered at the hands of the oligarchs. The complaint about Sanders is that he makes promises he can’t keep.
Even if he could break up the big banks as president, which he could not, there are questions as to whether that would seriously destabilize the world economic order. Besides, the lobbyists would eat him alive. Even if he tried to deliver on his pledges to try to establish a single payer health system, there’s no way Congress would pass the necessary tax increases. The same goes for free college tuition. Imagine the field day lobbyists would have undermining each initiative.
Hillary Clinton, who is frantically trying to gain traction, derides Sanders’ solutions as a “magic wand.” Now she’s desperately displaying still another Hillary. We started with the above-it-all prohibitive favorite, but the aloofness turned people off. So then we were told to watch as she showed her warm and fuzzy side, complete with her sense of humor. She knocked them dead on “Saturday Night Live” and the nighttime talk shows. But it hasn’t worked. So in the latest debate, we got Aggressive Hillary. She went after Sanders over his shaky gun record, and the two tried to take sound bites out of each other over Wall Street, health care, all that stuff. The Bern showed he has a little of The Donald in him, bragging about his poll numbers: “As Secretary Clinton well knows, when this campaign started, she was 50 points ahead of me. We were all of 3 percentage points. Guess what, in Iowa, New Hampshire, the race is very, very close. Maybe we’re ahead in New Hampshire.”
But he wasn’t finished: “In terms of polling, guess what, we are running ahead of Secretary Clinton in terms of taking on my good friend Donald Trump, beating him by 19 points in New Hampshire. 13 points in the last poll I saw.”
“Good friend”? Hardly. However, their followers share a contempt for politics as usual, and these two unusual politicians have touched that nerve. They are heading in opposite directions but taking the same path. Is it possible they’ll each be their party’s nominee? I’d say that stranger things have happened, but they really haven’t.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.