The Real Parallel to Donald Trump is not Bernie Sanders: Its Hillary

Time and again, pundits draw parallels between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders as the non-establishment, populist candidates. It is a very weak analogy – actually wrong. Senator Sanders has been in office for over thirty years. Both are popular among a segment of the general electorate, including independents, but popularity does not make them ‘populist’ candidates in any serious use of that term. It is amazing that this parallel keeps getting repeated, although it is apparent as a means to undermine the credibility of the candidates.

What is more amazing is that no one draws the real parallels between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Think about it: Hillary in politics is the political equivalent of Donald in business. Its obvious. For example, consider the following:

Donald Trump’s candidacy is based on his experience in business. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy is based on her experience in politics. Note that Trump’s success in business is contested, as is Hillary’s in politics, such as in voting for the Iraq war.

Donald Trump’s message is ‘making American great again’, while Hillary Clinton’s is ‘keeping America great’. One is pessimistic about the current directions of American policy and leadership. The other is optimistic. Likewise, both candidates anchor their policies around the Obama Administration. Hillary mainly defends and aligns with President Obama, while Donald Trump takes a critical perspective on most of the President’s policy decisions. They are the flip sides of the same coin.

The public feels like they know Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It is well known that one of the major factors that shape how people vote is whether a person feels like they know the candidate. This psychological dimension was part of the dynamic behind the success of Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and other stars who have gone into politics. Donald Trump is known from reality television; Hillary is known from her years in the public eye as First Lady, Senator and Secretary. Bernie is relatively unknown, and increasingly liked as he has come into the public eye.

Donald is relatively new to public policy, while Hillary is steeped in policy – often called a ‘policy wonk’, but neither has a systematic framework or what some have called a ‘big idea’. Both develop policies that are responsive or at least appealing to their respective constituencies. In this respect, both candidates are more ‘whack a mole’ problem-solvers than driven by a core ideology or core idea. Those who follow them just believe their experience in business or politics, respectively, will lead them to the right solution.

This is one factor that dramatically differentiates Bernie Sanders from both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton: Bernie has a big idea, which drives his positions on other policies and solutions to a wide range of problems. This even gives him problems when responding to ad hoc questions and issues. He has to think about how such issues resonate with his core ideas.

I could go on, but if you consider real comparisons of the candidates, and don’t uncritically accept the imgrespronouncements of pundits, you might well see that Hillary Clinton is a mirror image of Donald Trump. Bernie Sanders is not the Donald Trump of the Democratic Party. I know it is heretical, but it is Hillary!


Campaign and Political Financing Buys Access, Not Votes

Campaign and Political Financing Buys Access, Not Votes

The Democratic Party debates have raised questions on whether Hillary Clinton’s positions on policy issues changed as a consequence of speaking fees and donations to her campaigns. Politicians and media pundits alike remind us that they do not read social science research. The key focus of campaign financing and lobbying is access, not more direct and vulgar efforts to buy votes. So, rather than ask whether Secretary Clinton or other candidates changed their policy positions as a consequence of financial support, we should be looking at whom they communicate with. Who has access to them?

Shaping Access

Political influence is subtler than vote buying. Perhaps as the old adage says, everyone has their price. So hundreds of thousands of dollars might well influence some people. In the machine days, many voters cared less about whom they voted for, so they would gladly sell their vote for a turkey at Christmas or simply as a favor for a friend. But in most cases, effective lobbying of politicians is done through shaping a communication process, and money and donations tend to buy access to politicians, which in the long term shapes what they know and what they attend to among competing issues on their agenda.

In the 1950s, major interest group theories of political influence hypothesized direct effects of lobbying. Interest groups were perceived as simply giving money to politicians to win their support on key votes. This was sometimes called a billiard ball model of influence. The business or other stakeholder who lobbied most effectively would win the politician’s support. This proved to be naïve. hillary-<3s-trumps

Empirical research on lobbying by my late graduate school mentor, Lester Milbrath, and others, such as Anthony Dexter, tended to demonstrate that politicians seldom changed their positions as a consequence of lobbying. Instead, the implications and role of sophisticated lobbying efforts tended to focus on shaping the communication networks of the politicians. Support could get meetings, phone calls, dinners, and today, probably email exchanges with politicians. These provide opportunities to influence the politician’s understanding of the issues, and to identify the issues of most importance to their supporters.

Lester Milbrath
Lester Milbrath

So don’t look simply at whether a politician’s voting record demonstrates the receipt of financial support. That is the wrong place to look. Instead, look at the network of those who advise and explain the issues to them. To accomplish this, lobbyists need to develop a personal relationship with politicians, and money helps a great deal.

We’ve known this for decades but must continually remind ourselves that pundits ignore research.


Raymond A. Bauer, Ithiel de Sola Pool, and Lewis Anthony Dexter (1963), American Business and Public Policy: The Politics of Foreign Trade, 1st Edition. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Lester W. Milbrath, (1960), ‘Lobbying as a Communication Process, The Public Opinion Quarterly, 24(1): 32-53.

Lester W. Milbrath (1963), The Washington Lobbyists. Chicago: Rand McNally.