Sanders & Trump Are Actually A Lot Alike

by Seth Millstein

Apparently, Bernie Sanders is planning to court Donald Trump's supporters and pull them over to his camp. On the surface, this plan seems positively insane: Trump is a xenophobic, bomb-throwing demagogue worth billions of dollars, while Sanders demonizes "the billionaire class" and despises personal attacks on his opponents. But in fact, Trump and Sanders are similar in more ways than you might expect. That doesn't mean the Vermont senator will succeed in winning the votes of Trump fans, but he's certainly not crazy to try.

Sanders' basic premise, as he explained in an appearance on Face the Nation Sunday, is that he and Trump are both appealing to Americans who feel anxiety over unemployment, low wages, and other forms of economic instability; the only difference, Sanders says, is how the two candidates go about making that pitch.

"What Trump has done, with some success, is taken that anger, taken those fears — which are legitimate — and converted them into anger against Mexicans, anger against Muslims," Sanders said. "In my view that is not the way we're going to address the major problems facing our country."

Yes, both Sanders and Trump have capitalized on Americans' anger over how things are, and it's not the only similarity between the Democratic socialist senator from Vermont and the billionaire businessman from New York.

They're Both Outsiders

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With one very brief exception, Trump has never run for office before, and both his conduct on the campaign trail and his ground operation have zero resemblance to a traditional presidential campaign. Sanders is a member of Congress — but he's the only member of Congress to identify as a Democratic socialist, and his policy proposals are way, way outside of the mainstream of the Democratic Party.

In other words, both Trump and Sanders can plausibly claim to be outsiders intent on ripping down the status quo in Washington. They're arguably the two most outsider-y candidates in either party, and that itself is a strong appeal to many voters.

They Have Similar Foreign Policies


When it comes to dealing with Syria, Trump and Sanders aren't too far apart from one another. Trump talks tough, but he's actually rather dovish on foreign intervention. Like Sanders, he vocally opposes America's longstanding policy of overthrowing dictators in other countries — an unorthodox view in both parties, and one that's rarely espoused by elected officials. Because of this, both oppose American ground intervention in Syria, and both have long denounced the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

They Both Criticize Open Borders


To be entirely clear, there are plenty of differences in how Trump and Sanders talk about immigration. Sanders doesn't call immigrants "rapists," nor does he propose banning all Muslims from entering the U.S., mass deportations, giant walls, or anything like that.

Nevertheless, Sanders has echoed one of Trump's biggest argument against immigration: the idea that immigration to the U.S. hurts American workers. He doesn't spend much time talking about this, but if you were a Trump supporter in the market for another candidate, Sanders' immigration talk wouldn't necessarily be a turn-off.

They're Both Somewhat Pro-Gun

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Trump says that he "fully support[s] and back[s] up the Second Amendment." He rarely gets into specifics but generally positions himself as pro-gun. Meanwhile, Sanders was endorsed by the NRA early in his political career and has voted against several pieces of prominent gun control legislation since entering Congress. He's since moderated his stance on firearms — it's hard to win a Democratic primary when you fervently oppose gun control — but Sanders is still the most pro-gun candidate running for the Democratic nomination.

They Both Oppose Free Trade Agreements

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Free trade is an issue that puts many people to sleep as soon as it's mentioned, yet it has become a surprisingly high-profile issue in the 2016 campaign. Trump and Sanders are both opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, President Obama's signature trade deal. They're also both opponents the North American Free Trade Agreement, President Clinton's signature trade deal, and each are making the same basic argument: free trade drives down wages and job opportunities for American workers.

This is in line with Trump's general campaign theme, which is that other countries are screwing the U.S. left and right. While Sanders hasn't made this argument in such xenophobic terms, those for whom the sentiment resonates would find quite a bit to like in Sanders' position on trade.