With Trump now the presumptive nominee after his victory in Indiana and Ted Cruz's withdrawal from the race, the Republican narrative seems clear. Trump's appeal is summed up nicely here by NBC:
Trump won by discovering a primal desire among GOP voters for a swaggering populist who would buck orthodoxy on trade, protect entitlements, build a border wall, deport all undocumented immigrants, and implement an "America First" foreign policy that demanded allies pay for U.S. protection or go it alone.
Millions of supporters, distrustful of their party's leaders, rallied behind him as a unique figure whose personal fortune enabled him to spurn donors and say what he wanted with impunity.
His presumptive opponent: Hillary Clinton. But not so fast! Playing the spoiler, Bernie Sanders won in Indiana and has an outside chance of denying the nomination to Hillary. As Bernie pointed out in Indiana, he's winning the vote of those 45 years of age and younger, and his appeal is strong among liberals and independents.
A large part of Bernie's appeal is that he's a man of principle with a clear message. I can easily tell you what Bernie is for. He's for a political revolution. He wants a single-payer health care system. He wants free college tuition for students at state colleges. He wants campaign finance reform. He wants a $15 minimum wage. He wants to break up big banks. He was against the Iraq War and wants a less bellicose foreign policy. The man knows how to take a stand and stick with it.
Now: What does Hillary Clinton want, besides the presidency of course? It's hard to say. For the last few months, she's essentially been responding to Bernie. As his progressive and idealistic message resonates with voters, Hillary cautiously adopts aspects of it. For example, she was against a $15 minimum wage until she was for it. She's made noises about getting big money out of politics even as she's siphoned up as many Benjamins as she could. Lately, she's pivoted and begun to run against Trump, as if Bernie has no chance at all to deny her the nomination.
Here's the problem for Hillary: She's a MOTS candidate, or more of the same. She's promised a continuation of President Obama's policies, at least domestically, while in foreign policy she's promised to take a harder line than Obama. But I'm hard-pressed to name a single major policy initiative that's uniquely hers, and I've watched virtually all of the Democratic debates and town halls. She's running as a technocrat, as an insider, as Obama in a pantsuit but with iron fists.
Assuming it's Hillary versus Trump in the fall, it'll be Trump who has the ideas, crazy or divisive or unsustainable as they may be. And it'll be Hillary who'll be running as the "safe" candidate, the anti-Trump, the one whose motto might be, "the audacity of establishment incrementalism."
Is that what American voters are looking for? Establishment incrementalism? More of the same?
Stay in the race, Bernie Sanders, and give us a real choice this fall.
A retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and history professor, Astore blogs at Bracing Views.