Sanders and Trump are competing populists

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are not opposites, but rather they are competing populists. Candidates who, as libertarian Glenn Reynolds writes, “have come forward to claim the orphaned vote.”

To paraphrase Marine Le Pen, president of the largest third-party in France, modern political struggles are no longer between left and right but between globalist and anti-globalist. It is “anti-globalist,” or “populist,” which I believe could well describe the two competing figureheads of this new American phenomena. 

In Seattle, Sanders drew a crowd of 15,000. In Portland, he drew 19,000. In Los Angeles, over 25,000. On one hand, any candidate who can draw that many to a rally, in any city, needs to be taken seriously. On the other, the crowds were drawn in Seattle, Portland, and Los Angeles—not exactly middle America.

“Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat,” I heard Ann Arbor commissioner Andy LaBarre say in 2014. “The man is a self-professed socialist. He’s to the left of the Democratic Party.” 

Matched only by Sanders’ native New England, the West Coast is one of the most socially liberal regions of the country. Euthanasia was legalized in Vermont in 2013, the year the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, years after Washington and Oregon. These same three states (as well as Hawaii, California, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Maine) do not require parental consent for a minor to undergo an abortion. In 2014, Pew Research found that the rates of irreligiosity in the Northwest and New England topped 30 percent, the still-rising Millennial average. 

If where he draws the biggest crowds is any indicator as to who his core base is, Sanders is not only to the left of the Democratic Party, but he also draws his key support from some of the most liberal regions of the country. Why should it be surprising that a New England independent socialist is making inroads on the West Coast? 

If the term “Scandinavian” should be applied to anyone, it should be applied to Donald Trump. When one takes a roster of the many facets of the Scandinavian model (i.e. parliamentary democracy, ethno-linguistic homogeneity, geography, etc.), they will find that Sanders virtually ignores all facets but the economic. Trump, however, supports more or less conservative social policies, supports a minimal welfare state, and is either skeptical of or downright opposed to open borders—a platform which matches those of Scandinavian third-parties almost to a “T.”

Trump supports a minimal welfare state, while Sanders supports an extensive welfare state. Trump wants to build a wall on the southern border, but Sanders opposes immigration, which he sees as driving down American wages. Trump opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement. So does Sanders. Trump opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Sanders did too. Trump styles himself as a billionaire taking on the corrupt political class. Sanders styles himself as a politician taking on the corrupt billionaire class. In short, Trump is a right-populist and Sanders is a left-populist. 

Teddy Roosevelt caused the progressives to split from the Republican Party in 1912. In 1968 and 1980, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan caused social conservatives to split from the Democratic Party. Could Sanders and Trump be causing immigration restrictionists and economic protectionists to split from the two major parties in a kind of anti-globalist revolt? The possibility wasn't even on my horizons a year ago. 

If you want to see what future holds for the United States, the saying goes, look at Europe. I don’t think the continent is much of a benchmark for the United States, but it can help to take off the red and blue-colored glasses and try to see the United States through European eyes—if only for a moment.

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