Trump and Sanders Speak Their Minds
But only obfuscating politicians get elected. Trump has soared to the top of the polls, and Sanders has made a much bigger splash on the Democratic side than expected. The public appreciates their candor. “In a world of equivocation and politi-speak, Trump speaks American,” writes conservative columnist Debra J. Saunders in Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle in Politi-speak: Talk a lot, say little. “Policy wonks throw around phrases like ‘public-private partnership’ that mean nothing to voters. Trump has his own term — ‘the deal.’” This, according to Saunders, is one reason for Trump’s popularity.
Trump has expressed blunt opinions on a variety of matters of significance to a segment of voters. But according to the analysis of Michael Barbaro, Nate Cohn, and Jeremy W. Peters of the NYTimes (Why Donald Trump Won’t Fold: Polls and People Speak), what seems to animate his supporters most is his attitude. “His support is not tethered to a single issue or sentiment: immigration, economic anxiety or an anti-establishment mood. Those factors may have created conditions for his candidacy to thrive, but his personality, celebrity and boldness, not merely his populism and policy stances, have let him take advantage of them.”
Sanders’ support seems to come from his straight talk. As H.A. Goodman puts it in Bernie Sanders can win, “The integrity, honesty and bold stances of Sanders make him a real threat to Clinton’s campaign, and he’s earned something that billions in campaign fundraising can’t buy: the trust of the average American. Compared to Republicans and Democrats like Clinton, Sanders has supported the issue of gay marriage since 2000, vehemently opposed the Iraq War, opposes TPP, wants student-loan debt reforms, fights for veterans, and isn’t afraid to blast ‘too big to fail’ Wall Street firms.”
But the political punditry is unsure of their chances of gaining the nomination or the election. FiveThirtyEight (Donald Trump Is Winning The Polls — And Losing The Nomination) for instance, is skeptical that Trump can win. “Trump’s overall favorability ratings are miserable, about 30 percent favorable and 60 percent unfavorable, and they haven’t improved.” Republican establishmentarians are concerned that Trump’s (and other candidates’) strong anti-immigrant statements will turn away many Hispanic voters they will need to win the election in November of 2016. The strength of his statements on other matters will invigorate his supporters, and his antagonists as well.
Sanders runs into a similar wall. Just as many are repulsed at Donald Trump’s bluster, many recoil at Sanders’ socialism. While progressives are rushing to his campaign, Nate Cohn, in Why Bernie Sanders’s Momentum Is Not Built to Last, thinks that “the Sanders surge is about to hit a wall: the rank and file of the Democratic primary electorate.” Mrs. Clinton, he continues, “still holds a huge lead among moderate and conservative Democrats — white and nonwhite alike.”
But why? Why will Donald Trump lose the nomination even though most of his Republican rivals share similar policy views? Why will Bernie Sanders lose, when Hillary Clinton shares most of his policy views?
Electability, according to Bill Scher (To Win, Bernie Can’t Be Bernie). Or as Aaron Blake puts it in The one big reason neither Donald Trump nor Bernie Sanders can keep this up, “So how is it possible that the chattering classes are still giving them almost no chance – not only to win the presidency, but even their parties’ nominations? There’s actually a very good reason: It’s because people do care about electability. They just don’t care about it yet.”
I think this is too simplistic. It is precisely because of their ability to obfuscate, as Debra Saunders puts it, that Jerry Brown is a popular governor of California (“Gov. Jerry Brown stands out because he says nothing but uses an idiosyncratic vocabulary.”) And it is because they will say enough to inspire their supporters without saying so much to offend those who are in the middle, that Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush will be the nominees of their parties (OK, maybe not Jeb Bush. But then who? Maybe Marco Rubio…)
In the end, our President, and our Governors, and to an extent our Senators, need to represent, if not all of us, at least most of us, and to do that they need to inspire their supporters just enough, but not so much as to turn away the others. More than getting voters to jump on their bandwagon on the basis of strong language on a particular issue, they need to keep voters from jumping off the bandwagon in disagreement of a strong position on a topics of interest to them. The candidate who wins needs to be, to a certain extent, milquetoast to the middle.