The 2016 Presidential race continues to be one of the most intriguing ever and only gets more compelling over time. The two primary reasons for this are readily apparent: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders and the reasons for their enormous appeal are strikingly similar. Both men are outsiders who political pundits wrote off at the beginning of the race as non-starters. Now, both are seriously being talked about as the potential front-runners in their respective parties. Each of them has drawn enormous support: in Trump’s case, through the tens of thousands of people who have rushed to his rallies, through his unprecedented name recognition among voters and through the non-stop media coverage he has attracted since the start. The 74-year-old Sanders, in a head-to-head race with a candidate who could become the historic first women president, has garnered the financial backing of over two million people across America and has attracted the lion’s share of support from a wide spectrum of Democrat voters including the young and even women voters. Each man has also turned his back on those individuals and organizations, including Super PACs, who could provide substantial financial support in exchange for influence in the political process.
At the same time, these two individuals are about as far apart on the political spectrum as candidates could get. Bernie Sanders represents the extreme progressive and liberal wing of the Democratic party, where even many in his own camp cringe when he unflinchingly describes his program of Democratic Socialism. At the extreme other end, although not without his share of skeptics, Trump allegedly represents the Republican’s conservative wing, including the ultra-conservative elements of the Tea Party and evangelical voters. While in the past, these outlier fringes of each party attracted little serious attention and few voters, Trump and Sanders have brought their respective political ideologies to center stage. It is not yet clear if voters buy into the extreme tenets the candidates represent, but it is clear that many voters certainly like them.
What is it about candidates Trump and Sanders that voters find so appealing? For one thing, each of them jettisoned “Political Correctness” early on in their campaigns in exchange for, clear, candid and in Trump’s case, sometimes crass language. While political pundits proclaimed an early political death due to the candidates’ unprecedented straight talk, poll after poll showed that with each new gaffe, their popularity grew. Other candidates who later tried to emulate their lead came across as being politically expedient rather than sincere. Now, with significant momentum behind each of them, it seems plausible, if not likely, that they could face a head-to-head contest come November. While the drama of this clash of titans is enormously appealing, the stakes for the electorate are frighteningly high. While most mainstream “establishment” candidates might be influenced by big money contributions from individuals and organizations, history has demonstrated that much of the influence exerted has been to maintain the status-quo. Change under these conditions tends to be slow, incremental, and for the most part, centrist, but this is not the kind of change either candidate Sanders or Trump promises.
Each of these men is committed to radical change toward opposite political extremes. Trump has no problem calling for a complete, if only temporary, ban on immigration from all Muslim countries and building a barrier between Mexico and the U.S. on the scale of the Great Wall of China. For his part, Sanders talks in terms of a political revolution that includes universal health care, a $15 minimum wage and free college education for all.
If Sanders and Trump face off against each other in November, the outcome of that election, as perhaps in no other time since the civil war, would divide the U.S. into a nation of winners and losers. And the greatest numbers of those losers are likely to be the mainstream political moderates. BUT WHAT IF…
What if the contest between these two political juggernauts ends in a dead heat and each candidate received the exact same number of electoral votes? In that scenario, with neither candidate receiving an absolute majority, the House of Representatives would decide the vote for president, with each state delegation receiving one vote, and the election of vice president would go to the Senate. If one party controls the House and the other controls the Senate, we could end up with a president from one party and a vice president from the other for the next four years.
Could Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders actually work together? Given their placement on the political spectrum that may seem impossible but when you consider their history, it may not be as unlikely as it first appears. In the past, Donald Trump has supported Democratic causes and candidates when it suited his personal and professional interests and Bernie Sanders points out proudly how he has worked with members of the opposite party on issues of common interest, like support for veterans. So what would a Trump/Sanders or a Sanders/Trump White House actually look like? A look into the personalities of each candidate might provide some clues.
Donald Trump is, above all else, a dealmaker. Everything about him from his business dealings, to his television programs, to his books, has been about “The Art of the Deal.” While he has done a masterful job navigating, if not, manipulating the obstacles on his path to the Whitehouse, even he has acknowledged that once there, deals will have to be made to get things done. At the same time, he has made it clear that for him, a successful deal means that he has made the best of the bargain and if his campaign speeches are to be believed, he defines that as the best bargain for the American people.
Bernie Sanders has demonstrated deep conviction, but he has also shown himself to be a man of compassion. Few candidates have been handed the ammunition he has to embarrass, if not demoralize his opponent. From Clinton’s vote to enter the IRAQ war, to her handling of the Benghazi attacks and her maintenance of a private e-mail server housing classified and top secret U.S. documents (and the resulting investigations), Clinton has been ripe for attack. Sanders has mildly attacked the bad judgment issue of the IRAQ war vote but he has steadfastly avoided taking political advantage of the other issues. Throughout the campaign and televised debates, he has shown great restraint and enormous respect for the former Secretary of State. He talks about a revolution through mobilizing millions of the electorate, but even if he does manage to galvanize voters around the first few issues, sustaining that level of involvement over a four-year term will become increasingly difficult and may eventually prove impossible. When that occurs, negotiation and compromise will be essential if he hopes to see significant parts of agenda succeed.
Trump has issued substantial volleys against his Republican rivals and Hillary Clinton but has had much less to say about Sanders. While it has been easy for Sanders to criticize Trump from a distance, he seems reticent to attack people he respects, regardless of their political persuasion. Would he be as critical of Donald Trump after getting to know the man vs. the candidate? To their advantage, neither man is tied to special interests that bankrolled their campaigns. Likewise, neither has demonstrated reluctance toward differing with their own party on issues about which they care deeply. Is it possible that thrust together, their mutual respect could overshadow the ideology of their parties and allow them to seek common ground in order to accomplish worthwhile goals? If that happened, it is highly unlikely that they could agree on any agenda that pushed them toward one extreme or the other. Compromise would have to occur. But in the privacy of the oval office, free from the spotlight of the media and the constant public pressure, what might the outcome of their negotiations look like? Perhaps…
On immigration: Might the president / vice president shelve arguments about deportation vs. immediate path to citizenship and wait until other areas of agreement are acted upon and settled? Might they concentrate on humane means for securing the borders, for thoroughly vetting all people who enter the country regardless of religion or national origin and for handing illegal immigrants who ignore the law?
On Healthcare: Might Trump agree to stall scrapping Obamacare until an alternative solution that both parties can accept is developed? Might Sanders accept an affordable system that includes reasonable premiums and deductibles so that as Governor John Kasich says, “They have some skin in the game” and individuals don’t take advantage of the system.
On College Tuition: Might they find a solution that provides affordable higher education for everyone who wants and is willing to work for it and that is tied into meaningful metrics like academic performance, attendance and participation, so that the new system does not diminish the value of higher education in the process?
On abortion: Instead of digging in on extreme positions of pro-choice vs. pro-life, might they move toward more common ground. Might they appreciate that while no women should have a pregnancy thrust upon her as in rape, or incest, nor seriously threaten her physical or mental health, at the same time, no human should be deprived of the right to life at the very moment of birth? Might they shift the conversation away from arguments about life beginning at conception or not until after birth, and toward a discussion about viability instead? Might they focus on the ability of the fetus to live outside of the mother’s womb and move away from the argument of the right of the woman vs. the fetus and toward a discussion about balancing the rights of the mother and the fetus?
On foreign intervention: Might such a team forge a U.S. foreign policy that maintains our role as champions of human rights in the world yet avoids future engagement in wars in which we need not and should not be involved? Might they find a way to extricate us from the Middle East yet avoid further destabilizing the region? Might they carry a big stick while holding out an olive branch?
On military and domestic spending: Might such a team strike a reasonable balance between spending on defense and on social programs? Might they find ways to salvage critical programs like social security? Would they be free to identify and eliminate waste, fraud and mismanagement?
These and other areas are fertile ground for intelligent, creative minds to plow. The prospect of two people so opposed in political ideology actually accomplishing them together seems remote at best. But there is one area that these two candidates strongly agree on and may be able to do something about, together or individually.
Both of these men have rejected funding by the powerful lobbies, individuals and Super PACs. Both have severally criticized the threat big money plays in the political process and in the accomplishment of meaningful change. This may be the first time in recent U.S. history when meaningful campaign finance reform is achievable, regardless of who wins. As the new president takes office, the victor in this race may find that his greatest ally in this endeavor to be the looser.
We can always hope.
I wrote this piece to stimulate thinking and dialogue about the upcoming election. If you find it interesting, feel free to share it on your social media and re-post in your blogs. If you do, please reference me as the author. Good Reading.