attribution: Photo: Gage Skidmore/CC
Nate Silver took a look at the media’s comparisons of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders and found them lacking. He makes ten points, each of which are blockquoted below and followed by my own reactions, but you’ll have to click through to read the entirety of Silver’s analysis.
1. Trump is “winning” (for now), and Sanders isn’t.
Silver thinks there is reason to believe Trump’s lead won’t hold. I’ve tended to agree, assuming that as the ridiculously large GOP field gets narrowed, supporters of mainstream Republicans will coalesce around another mainstream Republican. But I’m no longer sure that will matter. Ben Carson is now second in many polls, and when you add his numbers to those of Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Ted Cruz, it appears that there may be enough unhinged GOP voters to carry Trump, after all. This shouldn’t frighten Democrats now eyeing the head-to-head general election polls. Most Americans know the personality, but not his politics. Most Americans don’t like bigotry and misogyny. My guess is that if Trump is the GOP nominee, Democrats could bring back Michael Dukakis and still win.
2. Sanders is campaigning on substantive policy positions, and Trump is largely campaigning on the force of his personality.
This is the big one, and if we ended up with a Sanders/Trump general election, it would become even more apparent. Trump is an ignorant blow-hole, and Sanders has a long, deep, and wide history of substantively analyzing and taking stands on issues. The guy is a wonk. Trump is an affectation.
3. Sanders is a career politician; Trump isn’t.
To the GOP base, that’s a big plus for Trump. For voters who want a president that knows what he or she is doing, that’s a big plus for Sanders. It’s also another fundamental difference between the two men. Sanders is the real deal, while Trump is a fake tan and a bad toupee.
There’s more …
4. Trump is getting considerably more media attention.
This says everything about the media. Silver looked at Yahoo News and found that over the past month, Trump has received more media “hits” than Sanders and Hillary Clinton combined. Of course, the media find it much easier to cover personalities than policies. It’s their basic mode of operation.
5. Sanders has a much better “ground game.”
Sanders has a professional campaign apparatus in place, while Trump is more of a TV phenomenon. That can make a huge difference when it comes time for people to vote.
6. Sanders holds policy positions of a typical liberal Democrat; Trump’s are all over the place.
Sanders is not some whacky outsider trying to elbow into the Democratic base: He actually supports Democratic Party positions overwhelmingly often. This means base Democrats will like him. He even voted the same as Hillary Clinton 93 percent of the time when they served in the Senate together. Trump’s positions align well with the GOP base on some issues, but are anathema on others. That will make it easier for Democrats to want to vote for Sanders, and harder for Republicans to want to vote for Trump.
7. Sanders’s support divides fairly clearly along ideological and demographic lines; Trump’s doesn’t.
This one may better serve Trump, whose support is ideologically widespread among Republicans. Sanders appeals primarily to white, liberal Democrats. That’s not a secret, and it’s where Sanders will have to expand his support if he’s going to make a serious run at Clinton for the nomination. However, polls do show that Democratic voters who don’t prefer Sanders as their first choice are fine with him as their second choice. As is the case in reverse—it’s not that Clinton’s supporters don’t like Sanders, it’s just that they like Clinton more.
8. Sanders’s candidacy has clear historical precedents; they’re less obvious for Trump.
Silver compares Sanders to previous insurgent Democratic candidates, such as Bill Bradley, Howard Dean and Eugene McCarthy. They all gave the mainstream candidate a scare, but ultimately fell short. But Trump is more openly hostile to the GOP than were previous insurgent Republican candidates. Given how much the GOP base hates all things government, that may actually help Trump in the primaries.
9. Trump is running against a field of 16 candidates; Sanders is running against one overwhelming front-runner.
The diluted Republican field has prevented the GOP establishment from rallying behind just one of their own, and has helped Trump jump to his current lead. I will add that it also means Trump’s lead is a relatively small plurality, which may or may not grow as other candidates drop out. See my comment on Silver’s point No. 1. But were the Democratic field as diluted, Sanders might also enjoy a plurality lead.
10. Trump is a much greater threat to his party establishment.
Sanders is an outsider. But because he has aligned with Democrats so often, if he were to win the nomination the Democratic establishment base wouldn’t have a lot of trouble aligning behind him. The Republican establishment would have a much tougher time rallying behind Trump. His open hostility to the party, his animosity toward right wing media, and his apostasy on some key Republican issues means that if he did win the nomination, the GOP establishment might not even mind if he lost. The GOP establishment does not like not being in command. As Silver says:
A Trump nomination would be more of an existential threat to the Republican establishment.
Could Trump win without it? Not likely. It’s even less likely given his inattention to the ground game, which would make him particularly dependent on the party’s. Sanders would have the entire Democratic establishment behind him and he’d have his own ground apparatus. He’d have his long experience both with the politics of politics, with understanding and articulating his understanding of the issues, and he’d have stands on the issues that are much more aligned with those of the electorate than are Trump’s.
The media love a simplistic narrative, and for them equating the outsider candidacies of Trump and Sanders is too easy. But as is so often the case with narratives promoted by the major media, this one is also absurdly wrong.