It has often been said that you should never underestimate the perceived underdog. Going into the 2016 presidential campaign, the candidacies of Donald Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders were believed to be jokes. No one thought that Sanders, the Independent senator from Vermont, had a shot against the presumed Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. After all, the former secretary of state, senator and first lady had strong approval ratings and the formidable Clinton campaign machine behind her. As for Donald Trump, many people thought the real estate billionaire and reality show owner/star’s GOP bid would be a circus act distraction. The thinking was Trump was just in the race to build the Trump brand and that he would eventually either pull a “Ross Perot” third party move or bail completely.
Well, going into the critical New Hampshire and Iowa races, the two carnival act candidates have become serious contenders for the prize. According to a recent Franklin Pierce University and Boston Herald poll, Sanders is now beating Clinton 44 to 37 percent in New Hampshire. While Clinton still has a 20 point lead over Sanders in the Real Clear Politics average for most national polls, Sanders’ current momentum shows that tide is turning away from Clinton in the wake of her many scandals including her private email server, deleted emails, Benghazi, and Clinton Foundation quid pro quo deals. As for Trump, he continues to lead the GOP pack in national polls at 25%. He is also leading in New Hampshire polls with the latest Real Clear Politics average placing him at 24.5%.
Why are the “Bern” and “The Donald” soaring? While many theories are circulating the web regarding the curious rise of these two pretenders to the throne, the most popular theory is perhaps the most basic. They are both extremely self-aware and honest about who they are. Furthermore, they are unapologetic.
Right out of the gate, Sanders has positioned himself as a socialist. And if you look back at his voting history, it has been consistent with his professed belief system. He voted against the Iraq War even though 72% of the American people supported it at the time. He also voted against the Defense of Marriage Act (which barred Federal Recognition of Same Sex Marriages) even though 68% of Americans were against same sex marriage. And as for the cornerstone of his platform, eradicating income inequality, he has been talking about this for years. His recent proposals including an expansion of social security, free college for all, a 90% tax on the wealthiest Americans and a break-up of the big banks are consistent with his past ideology. Unlike Clinton, Sanders has not equivocated on his core beliefs to pander to a voting block. For instance, Sanders voted against the Patriot Act when then Senator Clinton voted for it.
Trump is also resonating with voters because he is true to himself. He is also unabashedly politically incorrect. With the exception of a recent near-waffle on his previous statements to “defund planned parenthood” Trump has been fairly consistent in his statements. He has demonstrated that he is willing to take a hard line on illegal immigration. His supporters broadly smile when he says that he is going to keep illegal immigrants out by building a wall and making Mexico pay for it. And he has also demonstrated repeatedly that he can bounce back with nary a scratch after making his so called “faux pas” such as calling Mexican illegal immigrants “drug dealers and rapists”, trivializing Senator John McCain’s military service by saying that heroes “don’t get captured” and of course the recent infamous comments about Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly came at him at the Republican Debate with “blood coming out her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.” In every single situation, Trump has managed to spin the headline so that he ends up on top. Furthermore, for every detractor who came after Trump for alleged misspeaks, there are ten individuals who gave him a high five.
Sanders and Trump are also resonating with voters because they are providing much needed entertainment value. They excite the crowds and they excite reporters. Bernie Sanders’ stump speeches are generating huge crowds of people of all ages anxious to hear about his plans to share the golden eggs. “This country belongs to all of us, not just a handful of billionaires”, Sanders told the crowds at this weekend’s Iowa State Fair. On the other side of the spectrum, Trump, is not afraid to celebrate his wealth. He has repeatedly made the comment on the stump that he is worth $4 billion and that he will spend his money to get his campaign message out. Many believe that he is saying “Look at me. I am rich. Elect me and I will teach you how to be rich too.” At the Iowa State Fair, Trump bought himself another headline by giving helicopter rides to kids. Trump’s helicopter rides even drew a response from Sanders who was also speaking at the Iowa State Fair. “I apologize, we left the helicopter at home,” Sanders told reporters “It’s in the garage.”
Whoever thought the ultimate socialist and the ultimate capitalist would be the campaign crowd-pleasers? Now “That’s Entertainment”.
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