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“Fringe Appeal”: Sanders’ And Trump’s ‘Us vs. Them’ Mentality Won’t Win Over America

If you want a window into the state of U.S. politics, the speeches given by the first- and second-place finishers in New Hampshire’s presidential primary were revealing. But what was striking was that the commonalities among the candidates did not follow party lines as much as they related to the candidates’ “outsider” or “establishment” status.

The outsiders won last night, of course: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, while having been elected to the U.S. House and Senate, did so as an independent and considers himself a democratic socialist. Donald Trump, a real estate developer and reality television personality, has held a variety of positions on political issues and contributed to both parties, but has never before held political office.

The runners up, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican John Kasich, embody their parties’ establishments: Clinton was a first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state. Kasich served as U.S. congressman, chairman of the House Budget Committee and is the popular two-term governor of Ohio.

But in their victory speeches, the outsiders sounded more like each other than they did their partisan colleagues. Sanders and Trump piqued the frustrations and angst of their respective parties’ primary voters.

For Sanders, it was American versus American: Wall Street, the billionaire class and Super PACs versus the victims of the “rigged economy.” His solution: a “political revolution” to make the rich pay their “fair share” so the rest of us can have free college, health care and retirement.

For Trump, it was Americans versus non-Americans: China, Mexico, immigrants and terrorists. His plan is to “earn world respect” and “make American great again” by constructing a border wall and rebuilding the military to “knock the hell out of” the Islamic State group. Unlike Sanders, Trump at least tempered his typical campaign demeanor and rhetoric during his victory speech in an apparent combination of glee and recognition of the fact that he had a national audience in prime time.

Clinton and Kasich, on the other hand, acknowledged and assuaged the insecurities of their parties’ bases by invoking core American values and desires.

Clinton, always politically calculating and often poorly advised, made a somewhat brief attempt to sound the Sanders theme, vowing to “fight Wall Street,” before falling back on her natural strengths. She promised to “work harder than anyone,” and reminded voters of her lifelong commitment to public service (which has proved that she does, indeed, work harder than anyone). She described a “growth and fairness economy” and vowed to support human rights for “every single American.”

Kasich vowed to “re-shine” America. He discussed the importance of the opportunity to work, the desire in each of us to help our families and neighbors and the preference to look to government as a last resort. Kasich promised to heal divisions, “leave no one behind,” and solve problems not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans.

Unfortunately for Sanders and Trump, most Americans still reject the “us versus them” mindset, whether internally or externally focused, espoused by Democrat or Republican. This approach is not just “outsider,” it is “fringe.” That fringe appeal proved to be a successful primary strategy in New Hampshire, but it is neither a viable general election strategy nor a way to govern an already insecure and divided nation.

In contrast, during their New Hampshire primary night speeches, both Clinton and Kasich appeared to have adequately addressed the concerns of their partisan voters while simultaneously appealing to the national electorate that they hope to face in November. To the extent that the term “establishment” correlates with judgment of the sort that Clinton and Kasich demonstrated on primary night in New Hampshire, we might just want to consider using the more appropriate term “qualified.”

 

By: Michael C. Barnes, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog, U. S. News and World Report, February 10, 2016

February 11, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, New Hampshire Primaries | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

   

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