U.S. candidate comparison: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have more in common than you might think
Similarities between Trump and Sanders go far beyond their New York roots and noteworthy hair
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have a long list of things that set them apart, not least of which is the fact that one is a private-jet-owning billionaire businessman who starred in a reality TV show, and the other is a democratic socialist who repudiates corporate greed and worked as a carpenter and filmmaker before entering politics 35 years ago.
But there are a number of similarities, too, and they haven't gone unnoticed by media and political pundits in this unpredictable, sometimes bizarre U.S. election season.
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During a town hall appearance on MSNBC in February, host Mika Brzezinski described to Trump the following candidate: someone who is considered a political outsider, taps into the anger of the electorate, delivers a populist message, and draws thousands to his rallies and many new voters to the polls.
"Who am I describing?" she asked. "You're describing Donald Trump," the leading Republican candidate responded, falling for the ruse.
Nope. Brezinski was describing Sanders. When told that, Trump acknowledged he and Sanders do agree on one thing: the U.S. is being ripped off when it comes to trade.
Their opposition to trade deals is indeed a policy area where Trump and Sanders are aligned. They even use the same word — "disaster" — to describe the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.
Rejection of big donors
"Neither of them appears ever to have met a trade agreement that he didn't dislike," said William Galston, a former policy adviser to Bill Clinton and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
On another policy front, they both talk about how they opposed the Iraq War, using that fact against their opponents in an "I told you so" manner. Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said Trump and Sanders both tap into an "America First" feeling in the electorate when it comes to foreign policy.
"They wouldn't want to call themselves isolationist, but that's effectively what they are," he said.
Trump and Sanders are also on the same page when it comes to money and politics. They both rail against the influence of big donors and lobbyists on Capitol Hill, saying they are not beholden to those interests.
In their campaigns, they eschew super PACs and boast of how they don't rely on them. In Trump's case, he says he's self-funding his campaign, while Sanders is raking in small donations from millions of Americans.
There are plenty of policy differences between the two men — on immigration, education and health care, to name a few. But when it comes to economic issues, Galston said Trump and Sanders are essentially saying the same thing.
"The two of them, from very different vantage points, are articulating overlapping criticisms of the way the American economy has performed, especially for middle-class and working-class families over the last generation," he said.
The country's economic conditions are, in part, fuelling the anger in the U.S. electorate in 2016. Voters don't trust their politicians to fix what's broken, and feel let down and abandoned. Trump and Sanders came along right at the time: when voters are yearning for something — or someone — different.
"If you're unhappy with the status quo, both of these candidates are likely to shake things up and I think that explains their appeal in different ways," said Glenn Reynolds, a columnist with USA Today who has written about the commonality between Trump and Sanders.
The desire for an anti-establishment, Washington outsider is strong and Trump and Sanders — even though the Vermont senator has been in Congress for years — are benefiting from that.
"They're not so much attracted by a policy platform as by a personality and an attitude and a dissatisfaction about the way things are," he said of the overlapping supporters.
When it comes to personality, both men are known for bluntly speaking their minds and for not worrying about political correctness. Their supporters say they are genuine and tell it like it is.
"I think they have an authenticity; people think they are sincere," said Sara Fagen, a Republican strategist who has observed the similarities between Trump and Sanders.
Attracting new voters
Fagen, along with Galston, Kondik and Reynolds, emphasized the fundamental differences between them. But she also said Trump and Sanders are successfully appealing to voters who are "mad as hell" and are delivering the same message: the system is rigged, voters are getting hosed and they'll be the ones to solve inequity and get rid of crony capitalism.
Americans are embracing that message and throwing their support behind these unlikely candidates; Trump and Sanders have developed hordes of loyal followers and can both claim credit for boosting voter turnout in the primaries and caucuses. They've engaged people in politics that otherwise wouldn't be paying attention.
But as Galston points out, Trump and Sanders both face the same challenge: electability.
"Each of them is relying on a mobilization of new voters into the system who haven't regularly participated before," he said. "Whether either of them could achieve a party majority or a national majority … based on the new voters that they are mobilizing, is a very interesting question. But the fact that they have deliberately gone out to do that is not in doubt."
On a lighter note, other features that Trump and Sanders share are trademark hairstyles and a New York dialect. If asked, even Trump would have to admit he and Sanders are the only two in the race for the White House who would opt to say "yuge" instead of huge.
- An earlier version of this story stated that Donald Trump had never run for public office. In fact, he ran as a candidate for the Reform Party in 2000. He was on the ballot in the party’s Califormia primary but bowed out of the race.Mar 26, 2016 11:44 AM ET