When Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said he could potentially win over GOP frontrunner Donald Trump's supporters, some politicos described the idea as a "Hail Mary." However, the self-described democratic-socialist from Vermont could definitely do just that, whether it be during the primaries or the general election. Trump's supporters, including the one who heckled Sanders at a rally this week, are not necessarily part of the billionaire class to which their adored candidate belongs. They are, as Sanders pointed out, working and middle class Americans who are "angry" with the way things are going in our country and want to direct their anger at someone. But Sanders noted that instead of being mad at Mexicans and Muslims, Trump's supporters should be upset with Wall Street and greedy corporations, and therein lies the crux of Bernie's swaying power. That being said, the challenge will be getting Trump's supporters to realize it.
As CBS mentioned in their interview, Sanders and Trump were easily the two biggest political surprises and phenomena of 2015. Both have attracted YUGE unprecedented crowds to their rallies, and struck populist cords with Americans who are upset with the status quo and ruling political class. Both dared to take on the establishment candidates in their parties and even challenged their parties' leadership for allegedly being biased against them. As Politico noted, "Both have hit on the same populist sentiment -- that a spineless elite has left the rest of the country at the mercy of global economic anarchy." National Review agreed, saying, "The very understandable impression that the government is lying about -- and incompetent at -- taking these problems seriously, [makes] the perfect preconditions for a populist backlash." Yes, even everyone from Bill Clinton to Jesse Ventura has realized that Sanders and Trump have an uncommon populist appeal.
Additionally, both The Bern and The Donald are financing their campaigns differently than their opponents. Hillary Clinton is easily the most Wall Street-funded Democrat in the race, while Sanders has rejected any super PAC or corporate money and recently broke President Barack Obama's record of donations to his campaign. Somewhat similarly, Trump is self-financing his campaign and calls his Republican opponents "puppets" for taking money from super PACs and special interests. So Sanders doesn't want Wall Street's money and Trump doesn't need it. This obviously doesn't bode well for Wall Street if either of these guys gets elected. Bernie has always railed against the 1 percent and still wants more regulation of the financial sector, while Trump has openly supported higher taxes on hedge funds. And while Sanders wants to increase taxes on the richest Americans, Trump has said he wouldn't mind paying more. Sound similar enough yet?
But wait, there's more -- Trump and Sanders are also similar on foreign policy and how they want to deal with America's veterans. Both opposed the Iraq War and have touted their position on that conflict during the campaign. Both have also emphasized their support for our country's veterans, although Sanders actually got an award for it from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Trump just says he "loves" our nation's Wounded Warriors and apparently donated money to the charity. Nonetheless, the intent is there. In fact, it's not much of a question that Clinton, who supported the Iraq War and authorized the invasion of Libya, is the most hawkish candidate on the Democratic side, while Trump -- who often speaks loudly about bombing ISIS' oil and protecting our country -- is actually pretty dovish compared to his Republican opponents, with the exception of libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).
Whether they end up facing each other in the general election (two old New Yorkers arguing would be a lot like my morning commute and I'm all for it) or if they'll just meet in satirical debates thanks to the Upright Citizens Brigade, it's clear that Sanders and Trump will stay on each other's radar and trade barbs as necessary. As Charles Pierce pointed out, "The only problem Sanders has with government is that it hasn't done enough to fix a rigged financial system and to stop the erosion of a viable middle class. The problem Trump has with government is that he's not running it." While their distinct messages continue to register with everyday, middle class voters and pull more political outsiders into their respective camps, it's worth noting that the latest poll shows Sanders would demolish Trump in a general election by 13 points.
Perhaps Sanders' talk of economic equality can trump hateful rhetoric after all.