By Ralph Nader
It is not often that Democratic and Republican insurgent candidates for President achieve such prominence and maintain staying power against the establishment “pols” of the two party duopoly that manages elections for the plutocracy that finances campaigns. The media are taking the insurgents seriously, which means that the polls are being done regularly on candidate positions and candidate match ups with other primary candidates.
Both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump start out with the first signal of viability the mass media demands – money to spend on campaigning. Sanders is surprising the pundits with his ability to attract small contributions, putting him on the road to raising a remarkable $70 million or more. He is not dependent on the fancy fat cat fundraisers that cater exclusively to the very wealthy in New York City, Los Angeles or other watering holes for the rich partisans.
Billionaire Trump, on the other hand, actually exaggerates his wealth as a campaign tactic, bragging that he can finance his entire presidential run if necessary. His “nobody owns me” image has resonated with more than a few voters, who may not realize that “The Donald” is a card-carrying member of the New York plutocracy.
The loud and raging Trump campaign tells us what can happen when voters follow their impulses without doing their homework. The burst of headline-grabbing, braggadocious phrases from Mr. Trump leaves his dubious business dealings, mistreatment of workers, acceptance of corporate welfare and his various tax escapes in the shadows (See David Cay Johnston’s piece, “21 Questions for Donald Trump”). Words over deeds so far.
Up to now, Trump, the current Republican front runner, holds or raises his poll numbers with each outrageous remark that appeals to the hardcore right – not all of them voters by the way – who love his bashing of minorities, his sexism and his ripping into other candidates. This is the latest Trump reality show.
The Republican establishment – that went for the Bushes, Mitt Romney, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon – is beginning to fear the continued success of his provocations.
Karl Rove, the arch-strategist for George W. Bush, just wrote a column in the Wall Street Journal titled “Trump is the Democrats’ Dream Nominee.” Rove noted poll after poll to support his thesis –low overall favorability ratings, low trustworthiness rankings. Hillary Clinton trumps Trump on “three important characteristics,” by the Quinnipiac poll. She has sizable leads on questions such as “the right kind of experience to be president” (never mind what kind of judgement), “cares about the needs and problems of someone like you,” and “shares your values.”
Rove goes on to imagine the kinds of television ads the Democrats would release should Trump get the Republican nomination. During the Cleveland debate, Trump asserted that he took his companies to bankruptcy four times having, he brazenly asserted, “taken advantage of the laws of our country.” Rove writes that the “footage might be followed by compelling testimony from contractors, small-business people and bondholders whom he stiffed.” Other Republican strategists worry that, should he head the ticket, Trump could bring down candidates from Congress to state legislatures, all the way down to mayors.
Outsiders wonder when the establishment Republicans are going to make their move. The plethora of well-funded primary candidates is complicating any quest to back a single challenger. But simply publicizing Trump’s business record and hoping and waiting for Trump to increase the self-destructive severity of his outrageous statements may be all they can do.
Bernie Sanders has a different kind of challenge. Polling a solid second to Hillary Clinton nationwide and running very close in Iowa and New Hampshire, he has to freshen and broaden his message. During the past six months, he has demonstrated, with a tiny campaign staff, and a swelling campaign treasury, that he can attract larger audiences than Hillary has been able to do thus far and that his campaign has plenty of money in reserve.
In the coming weeks, Bernie has to increase the number of full-time people on the ground to organize and get-out-the-vote to win Iowa and New Hampshire before Hillary’s advantage in the southern state primaries registers on March 1, 2016. More pressingly, he must educate the public about the vast differences between his voting and policy record and that of Clinton when she was a Senator and Secretary of State. Some of his supporters believe that he has not been doing this strenuously or sharply enough.
Finally, Senator Sanders, who has come a long way without anyone else’s advice, now needs to start diversifying his strategy by becoming more receptive to the opinions of those outside of his team. His campaign seems repetitive and unimaginative. Needless to say, he has enormous material to work into his daily stump speeches and special subject addresses. Sanders also has to make more news, especially because Democratic Party operatives are not allowing more than six debates where he can contrast with Hillary Clinton before very large television viewing audiences.
Senator Sanders will need more prominence if he really wants to overtake Clinton. Making good on his promise to endorse the eventual Democratic nominee would mean to his followers a ripe opportunity to get the winner of the Democratic Primary to specifically endorse much of the Sanders agenda beforehand.