Trump, Sanders tap common themes to sway voters

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The dynamics fueling the surging campaigns of presidential candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are more similar than not, as the success of the upstart Sanders, running for the Democratic nomination, and the outsider Trump, in the Republican race, shows how turned off some American voters are by “establishment” contenders.

On the surface, the two candidates appear to be exact opposites. Trump, a billionaire developer and reality television star from Manhattan, has branded Sanders, a senator from Vermont and former Burlington mayor, a “commie maniac.” For his part, the self-avowed democratic socialist has tarred the New Yorker as representing the “greed of corporate America.”

Yet below the surface there’s a common root in their anti-establishment vibes. This week, both candidates claimed in separate interviews that they could attract each other’s most-ardent supporters. The claims may have more substance than the typical campaign rhetoric both Trump and Sanders have tapped into the frustrations of voters who feel at the mercy of America’s two major political parties.

A Real Clear Politics average of three national polls shows that if Trump faced Sanders today in a general election, the Brooklyn-born Vermonter would edge the well-heeled Manhattanite by a slim 2 percentage points.

Sanders, appearing on the CBS News show “face the Nation” on Sunday, made a pitch to middle- and low-income Trump supporters, outlining how he makes the case for their support:

“If we really want to address the issues that people are concerned about, why the middle class is disappearing, massive income and wealth inequality in this country,” Sanders said, we need policies that bring us together, that take on the greed of Wall Street, the greed of corporate America, and create a middle class that works for all of us rather than an economy that works just for a few.”

Sanders said Trump has drawn in those frustrated, angry voters by urging them to focus their anger and fear on Mexicans, whom the Republican has castigated as criminals, and on Muslims, who he has suggested are terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. The senator also said Trump’s positions on key issues such as the federal minimum wage and taxes are designed to favor the wealthy. The Democratic contender’s salvo did not go ignored, however, as Trump immediately went after him on

But Trump may have misfired, as there have been several instances this year in which he decried wage increases, saying pay rates are already too high for the country to compete. Still, he has made contradictory statements about other issues, with apparently little effect on voters who support him.

Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan on Monday told “CBS This Morning” that she sees the efforts by Sanders to go after Trump’s supporters as a “smart” move.  

“He’s looking at all the voters and he’s thinking, ‘I’m a left-wing populist but we have a lot in common with right-wing populists, they like Trump,’” Noonan said. “‘I’m going to go straight to Trump’s guys and say don’t just think him, think me. I share some of your views, your antagonisms and your insights, we all hate Wall Street, you know?’”

Trump is not discounting or ignoring Sanders’s attempts to peel away his supporters. In another message posted on Twitter, he tried to turn the tables:

Both candidates will be stumping in the Merrimack Valley as the new year begins. On Monday, Trump is set to appear at a rally in Lowell, at the Tsongas Center, a 6,500-seat arena, while Sanders is slated to hold a town-hall style meeting just up Route 3 at the Radisson Hotel in Nashua, New Hampshire.

Contact Evan Lips at [email protected] or on Twitter at @evanmlips.