Election 2016

Surprising Similarities Between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump

On the issues, there's more overlap between the two 2016 presidential candidates than you might expect.


Sanders via DonkeyHotey/Flickr; Trump via Gage Skidmore/Flickr.

The surprise stories of the presidential campaign so far have been the billionaire and the anti-billionaire. They are more alike than you might think.

The billionaire, Donald Trump, has been topping polls on the Republican side. And the anti-billionaire, Sen. Bernard Sanders, independent socialist of Vermont, has been drawing large crowds and emerging as the most formidable challenger to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.

A front-page New York Times dispatch about a Sanders campaign appearance in Iowa gave a flavor of the Sanders pitch in the candidate's own words: "What this campaign is doing is sending a loud and clear message to the billionaire class: And that is that their greed is destroying the United States of America…This country belongs to all of us—and not just a handful of billionaires."

Trump's appeal to the white middle-income voters that Sanders also draws from has journalists scrambling to understand what is happening. "Why on earth would they support a billionaire?" asks the New Yorker's James Surowiecki. Surowiecki answers, in part, that, "Trump's unabashed revelling in his wealth works to his benefit, since it makes him seem like an ordinary guy who can't get over how cool it is to be rich." Also, "Trump's riches allow him to portray himself as someone who can't be bought."

The University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds, who blogs as Instapundit, writes in his USA Today column that "Trump's rise is, like that of his Democratic counterpart Bernie Sanders, a sign that a large number of voters don't feel represented by more mainstream politicians. … Trump and Sanders have come forward to claim the orphaned vote."

On issues, there's more overlap between the Republican billionaire Trump and the socialist anti-billionaire Sanders than you might expect.

On immigration, both Trump and Sanders sound restrictionist notes. Trump rose to political prominence in part with his comments accusing Mexico of sending criminals and rapists to the United States. Sanders warns that immigration depresses American wages and contributes to youth unemployment.

On trade, Sanders and Trump both oppose the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that was one of President Clinton's great achievements. Trump called NAFTA a "disaster" and Sanders described it as a scheme to allow "multinational corporations" to "exploit desperate third world workers." They also oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Hillary Clinton helped to craft that agreement as Secretary of State (though she has been noncommittal about it as a candidate). Governor Jeb Bush, by contrast, is a big supporter of free trade.

On guns, Sen. Sanders was initially elected to Congress with the support of the National Rifle Association. Pro-gun-control journalists denounce him as a "gun nut." Trump, likewise, has been running on what he describes as a strong pro-Second Amendment stance.

Even the personal lives of Mr. Sanders and Mr. Trump have certain similarities.

Both are from the outer boroughs of New York City. Sanders is from Brooklyn; Trump, from Queens. Both are children of immigrants. Sanders' father was born in Poland; Trump's mother is from Scotland.

Neither candidate served in the Vietnam War. Trump had student deferments and a medical deferment. Sanders reportedly applied for conscientious objector status; by the time the application was rejected he was "too old to be drafted."

Trump is on his third marriage. Sanders is on his second marriage and has a son from a relationship with a third woman. 

They both have gravity-defying hair. "Bernie Sanders has the best hair in Congress," Buzzfeed declares. "Bernie Sanders has amazing hair," The Washington Post concurs. The Daily Beast calls Donald Trump's "the world's most notorious male haircut." Compared to the "impeccably coiffed," Mitt Romney, who reportedly paid $70 for a trim, or the ever-changing hairstyles of Hillary Clinton, who recently got her cut at a Manhattan salon that charges $600, the flyaway comb-overs of Messrs. Sanders and Trump have at least the appearance of authenticity. That's about as close as any politician can get to actual genuineness.

The press likes Trump because he's lively and entertaining but hates him because they think he's coarse and unserious. The press likes Sanders because he's their hope for avoiding the boredom of a Hillary cakewalk, but most of them don't think a 73-year-old socialist can win the presidency.

Could Mr. Trump and Mr. Sanders unite on a third-party ticket? Unlikely. The Washington Free Beacon satirically suggests that such a ticket is impossible because the two men "are (almost certainly) the same person."

Sanders and Trump can affect the outcome, though. Don't be surprised to find other campaigns looking for ways to capture their audiences. Trump already boasted in the Republican debate that if it weren't for him, the other candidates wouldn't have been talking about illegal immigration. Sanders will probably make the same claim about income inequality or wealth. There's difference, though, between casting blame—whether at immigrants or billionaires—and actually leading the country toward positive change. The challenge for other candidates looking to tap into the Trump-Sanders frustration with politics-as-usual will be to find some way to channel it in the direction of reform.

NEXT: St. Louis County Declares State of Emergency After Unrest in Ferguson on One Year Anniversary of Michael Brown Killing

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  1. Just more proof that the true political divide in this nation is authoritarianism vs non-authoritarianism. Too bad most people are too just damn stupid to realize it.

    1. Everyone is a libertarian regarding their own person – it’s the rest of humanity that needs fixing

    2. /\ /\ This x 1000

      1. Meant for The Grinch’s comment above.

        I disagree with you, TheZeitgeist. I’m a libertarian about the rest of humanity too.

        1. I don’t disagree with TheZeitgeist. I’ll x ? that comment. He wasn’t saying that no one is a Libertarian about everyone. He’s just saying that most people want their own freedom and they don’t care about yours. Which is totally true.

    3. Too many people find comfort in lives ruled by authoritarians. One does not need to look inside the smaller institutions of the world to find the largest numbers of the institutionalized, they can be found in public, often throwing their support to the huge institutions called governments.

    4. I would say the divide is more “tribe one” authoritarianism vs. “tribe two” authoritarianism.

    5. I disagree. The divide is between one brand of authoritarianism and another, with libertarians hanging out at the bottom of the chasm.

  2. Yep, Hitler vs Stalin — what’s the diff? Mustaches, pretty much.

    1. Yeah, I can see myself growing a Stalin ‘stache. The toothbrush? Not so much.

      1. Genghis had cooler face hair, was much more hands on, and had his ways with more beautiful women than all the secular despots combined.

    2. Trump is more Mussolini than Hitler.

    3. Hitler had a snazzier uniform.

  3. I see a Donald/Bernie ticket in the future

    1. Yup-yo, I agree… They’d make a good pair, they complement each other well. The Donald knows how to take all of our money and then go bankrupt, having done that several times. And Bernie knows how to spend it all! Just what we need for fixin’ up Government Almighty…

  4. Both candidates are Authoritarian Collectivists.
    Any assertion that either man supports Individual Rights like The Second Amendment is absurd.
    My God, what a disgusting article.
    Trump’s wealth sprouted from the Crony real estate system of NYC.
    Sanders is a long time government trough slurper.
    We’re talking about two men who are the product of and promoters of central planning and the control / redistribution of private property via political fiat from a permanent political class which lives outside our Constitution.

  5. Trump looks to be in FOX-y damage control:


    1. It’s obvious he got stuck between the 2 metaphors “daggers coming from her eyes” & “blood in her eyes”, then realized he’d gotten it wrong & said “blood coming from her somewhere”. Ridiculous for people to think he was referring to mestru’n.

  6. Trump is leading Bush by a point among Republicans in Fla. This is no humbug.

  7. Bernie Trump / Donald Sanders

  8. “They both have gravity defying hair”

    I would probably vote for this article as the worst and most ridiculous thing I’ve read by an contributing author at Reason– although, not the most ridiculous thing compared to the comments. Can I get a job with you guys? Really. I think I can write something tongue-in-cheek that sounds better than “ooh, you know the other thing that’s the same about bernie sanders and Donald trump… They’ve both got craaazy hair. Ooh, look at me, I get paid to write this shit. You see… Jhiuggyotituvyjkvkiybouygkuyviutvkuyv!” Are the editors at Reason now just posting random shit now that their preferred poster boy is running 14th out of 17th amongst Republicans? I’d just say that Being a bitchy priss is terribly unattractive.

    1. american socialist|8.11.15 @ 1:41AM|#
      “I would probably vote for this article as the worst and most ridiculous thing I’ve read by an contributing author at Reason”

      Doesn’t begin to compare to the stupidity in your posts.

  9. “I come from a state that has virtually no gun control, but the people of my state understand?pretty clearly?that guns in Vermont are not the same as guns in Chicago or guns in Los Angeles. In our state, guns are used for hunting. In Chicago, they’re used for kids in gangs killing other kids or people shooting police officers, shooting down innocent people.” -Bernie Sanders

    Translation: Black and brown people can not be trusted with guns.

    1. The first gun control laws were to disarm former slaves. The 14th Amendment was supposed to stop that kind of tyranny but the Supreme Court eliminated the “privileges and immunities” clause to protect a meat packing monopoly in Louisiana.

      What cities have the worst gun control laws? The ones with the most minorities.

  10. Please, enough of these shitty fucking Trump articles. We get it, you think he’s a moron.

    1. Please, enough of these shitty fucking Trump articles. We get it, y?o?u? ?t?h?i?n?k? he’s a moron.


  11. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are the type of leaders that always emerge in bankrupt, collapsing welfare states; promising security and continued free goodies and entitlements, blaming foreigners and “the rich” or “the elite” for all the people’s problems.

    This demagoguery – the strong man who will fix everything without regard for convention or constitutional niceties – started with Barack Obama. Trump and Sanders are the next step downhill. America is now Italy in the 1920s, Germany in the 1930s, Argentina in the 1940s.

    1. Amen, I agree! Hitler blamed the Jews; Trump blames the illegal humans, and Bernie blames “the rich”. It’s always some scapegoat, it is never us, the greedy and self-righteous voters, who are to be blamed. Try running by telling THAT particular truth, and see how far you get!

  12. Trump and Sanders: One has an enlarged prostate, while the other has corn stuck in his teeth.

    Can you guess which is which?

  13. Trump tweet of the morning:

    Donald J. Trump ?@realDonaldTrump 11h11 hours ago Manhattan, NY
    Truly weird Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky reminds me of a spoiled brat without a properly functioning brain. He was terrible at DEBATE!


    1. Geez, Donald, project much?!

    2. I take this as a good sign – Trump doesn’t bother with attacks on people who kowtow to him.

  14. Don’t care.

  15. People talk about a third party run by Trump (or Sanders) torpedoing the R (or D) candidate, but what if they both go off the reservation, but separately (there’s no way they would be on the same ticket)? That might be interesting.

  16. Could Mr. Trump and Mr. Sanders unite on a third-party ticket? Unlikely. The Washington Free Beacon satirically suggests that such a ticket is impossible because the two men “are (almost certainly) the same person.”

    Well, has anyone actually seen them in the same room at the same time?

  17. I’ve never considered Trump a true Republican, and I sure as hell don’t trust him. He does have some veiled economic populist ideas, but he’s trying to come across as fiscally conservative.

    Bernie, he’s genuine, moreso than Trump. But I can’t vote for a guy who wants to increase regulations, and I despise that whole “income inequality” liberal-ish b.s. that you hear these Democrat clowns spew.

    I wouldn’t vote for either one of them.

    God, imagine if it’s Trump and Hillary? I’ve already pretty much decided on Gary Johnson… but the two aforementioned atrocities, can you imagine the circus-like atmosphere of their debates?

    1. If wild horses threaten to draw and quarter me, and I was FORCED to pick between voting for Trump v/s Bernie, I would ask myself?
      Which of the two of them has the deepest voice?

      ‘Caveman instincts’ may favor deep-voiced politicians
      Deeper voices convey strength, competence more than age and experience

      1. See also?

        Voters favor deep-voiced politicians

        What does this mean to us, you ask? Well, I say, if, for instance, if you are faced with a choice between voting for “The Donald” Trump, and, say, Darth Vader, you should NOT trouble yourself too terribly much with near-meaningless questions like “Which character is more fictional?”; you should simply ask yourself, “Who has the deepest voice”? And then, you should obviously vote for Darth Vader!

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  19. Another thing both have in common is providing a whack-job sideshow to give the media an excuse or keeping the libertarians out of it. So we have “both” parties, and some clowns. This also muffles the disturbing similarities between the CPUSA and the Democratic Jackass.
    To this day the Dems struggle to look like the party was never ingested by Bryan-like populists of the looter persuasion.
    And of course there’s those federal subsidies instituted by Tricky old Dick Nixon to keep those elections bought and paid for by your federal government using money taken from folks who, like me, voted against them. Nixon, lest we forget, was a Republican, and those campaign purchasing laws are still on the books.

  20. Why do you insist on branding Bernie Sanders a socialist? He is a social democrat. You are making the same mistake here as everyone else who misunderstands what he is all about. How about some journalistic integrity? Labels, unfortunately, matter in this race.

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