Dear liberals, stop panicking over Trump. That’s the headline Michael Cohen wrote on Tuesday for his Boston Globe column that outlined the various reasons he is confident that the United States won’t elect “a racist, misogynist demagogue.” It sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Not even a year ago, countless political commentators told us why “Donald Trump won’t win the Republican presidential nomination.” They told us that his poll numbers were inflated and would eventually drop.
The polls weren’t wrong. The pundits were.
This week, general election polls show Trump and Clinton in a statistical tie.
For months now, I’ve been told that I worry too much about Bernie Sanders supporters possibly hurting Clinton’s chances in the general election should Sanders fail to win the nomination. I’ve decried that Sanders’ campaign is too focused on being anti-Clinton when its supporters may eventually need to rally around the former secretary of state if they want to keep the White House from going to someone more dangerous.
As it has become clear that Sanders will, indeed, not win the Democratic nomination, and now that Trump has officially secured the Republican nomination, I worry not only that many Sanders supporters will not turn out for Clinton, but that a large portion of them may actually turn out for Donald Trump.
A Trump-Sanders coalition? New York Times columnist Charles Blow says “Nah.” The Washington Post’s Wonkblog says the logic is crazy. Bill Scher writes in POLITICO Magazine that it won’t happen. All of them say the ideological disparity is too great for Sanders supporters to join Team Trump.
Have we not learned from the 16 candidates who said that Trump wasn’t conservative enough to beat them in the Republican primary that ideology has taken a backseat in this election?
“You have two candidates in Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders which have reignited a group of people who have been disenfranchised and disappointed with the way Washington, D.C. and career politicians have run the country.”
And Lewandowski is right. Four out of every 10 Democratic voters who favored Sanders over Clinton in West Virginia on Tuesday said they would vote for Trump over Clinton in the general election. As The Washington Post pointed out, most people support Sanders not because he’s oh-so liberal. They support him because they are disaffected with the establishment and because they want to shake up the status quo.
Of course, West Virginia is certainly not representative of the nation. It’s 94 percent white! However, it’s no secret that white people (more specifically, angry, white men) have been the backbone of Sanders’s and Trump’s campaigns all along.
The issue at the forefronts of the minds of these angry, white men is not Planned Parenthood or same-sex marriage. It’s not criminal justice reform, and it’s definitely not gun control.
It’s the economy, stupid! More precisely, it’s fear of social security insolvency, irritation at more free trade deals being signed, impatience with stagnant wages, frustration with unemployment and so on. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders both have huge appeal on these issues not because of their specific policy proposals to address them, but because they represent the same anger toward the status quo that so many of their fellow white men also feel.
Both campaigns have had an “us-versus-them” focus from the start. For Sanders, “them” was the millionaires, the billionaires, and the big banks. For Trump, “them” is Muslims and Mexicans. Charles Blow, The Washington Post and Bill Scher all believe these differences are too great to be overcome. I think that’s wishful thinking. For both campaigns, “us” is the same. It’s middle-class, white America.
Instead of dismissing the notion that those who are Feeling the Bern may later want to Make America Great Again, maybe the pundits should think about the possibility that the nature of the 2016 election might inevitably pit white men against everyone else. Moreover, instead of brushing off polls that show a tight race between Clinton and Trump, maybe Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic Party ought to replace complacency or over-confidence with a determined effort to mobilize Black, Latino and female voters. If there’s ever a time to be better safe than sorry, it’s now.
Contact Ruairí Arrieta-Kenna at ruairi ‘at’ stanford.edu