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!


Opportunities for CNN and Candidates in the First Democratic Party Debate

Five candidates are preparing for the CNN debate to be held in Las Vegas on 13 October 2015: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, but also Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee. There are two likely outcomes.

The first is an opportunity to actually debate the issues. The previous Fox and CNN debates failed to engage the candidates in a genuine debate of the issues, perhaps as a consequence of the sheer number of candidates on stage. On Tuesday, with five candidates, there will be no excuse for not asking the candidates to debate key issues, yet that remains to be seen. [Tracy Westen and I have been writing about this shortcoming of the GOP debates.]

Secondly, I expect that this is a key opportunity for the lesser known candidates to gain greater visibility. Martin O’Malley, for example, could gain support for his candidacy by virtue of just being heard. Even though there are fewer candidates in the Democratic Party Primary, it is amazing how focused the media have been on the two frontrunners, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Even Joe Biden, yet to decide on his candidacy, has received tremendous coverage. The other three candidates have received very little indeed. For example, the Sunday NYT (11 October 2015) prepares readers for the coming debate by discussing the debating skills of Bernie and Hillary, but not one column inch on O’Malley, Webb, or Chafee. This is one more illustration of the limitations of the mass media in elections. More use needs to be made of the Internet, Web and social media to cover a wider range of issues and candidates.


It might well be that the three lesser knowns will have the most to win in this CNN debate, as this stage will give them the best opportunity to-date to make their case as credible alternatives to the two front-runners. My prediction is that Martin O’Malley will be the biggest winner of Tuesday’s CNN debate, but the most important outcome should be the airing of candidate positions on key issues. This is the responsibility of the moderators at CNN.