Donald Trump's Bold Push For Bernie Sanders' Supporters Can't Work — Can It?
Despite his win in Indiana Tuesday night, most still seem assured that Bernie Sanders campaign is steadily approaching the end of its natural life. Meanwhile, on the Republican side, Donald Trump is almost certainly assured the party's nomination. It's just about a foregone conclusion that we'll be looking at a Clinton–Trump race this fall. But now that he's got the GOP nomination pretty much locked up, the Trump camp is beginning the play I figured it would make: comforting the despondent folks feeling the Bern — and urging them to come on over and make America great again.
It's an interesting phenomenon. Throughout this campaign, dating back to the time when there were, like, a million candidates, Sanders has always been the farthest left among the major parties (farthest right is slightly less clear – Cruz, maybe?), and you might think that puts his supporters most out of reach of candidates like Trump. But if one thinks of the political spectrum as maybe on more of a circle than a straight line, there's definitely a contingent of Sanders fans who would vote Trump before they'd vote Clinton.
Possibly the biggest cornerstone of Sanders' appeal was what is referred to as his "outsider" status — a status shared by Trump, who was known more for telling a female contestant on his reality show she'd look pretty on her knees than for any political credentials. Clinton, obviously, bleeds establishment. She's said that being a woman makes her an outsider, and that is true from a certain (and no less viable) perspective, but it does not mean she is not establishment in the way that Sanders and Trump fans so loathe the establishment. Now, it seems the time has come for Trump to prey on her haters by doubling down on the idea that her insider status and participation in a "cooked" system made sure Sanders never had a chance. On Wednesday morning, Trump made one of his most obvious plays to court the Sanders' supporters yet, playing super hard to earn their sympathy and begin building some fanciful sense of common ground.
The idea that Clinton has the system in her pocket is nothing new, nor is Trump's exploitation of it. We saw him direct the same strategy at another target just a few weeks ago, when a certain Texas senator was surging and Trump whined that Cruz was an evil political mastermind who was simply gaming the delegates, that it was all rigged against political outsiders like him — and now Sanders. Trump offering Sanders supporters a shoulder to cry on is too transparent to ever really fool anyone into believing it's anything more than a hypocritical opportunist circling, vulture-like, over the last days of the dying campaign, but that won't matter. Some of Sanders' supporters, in a sort of #NeverClinton-type rage, may be ready to cross over to the other side.
In the end, Sanders will bear some responsibility in making people fight for party unity in November. It'll be Clinton's job, too, of course, but she's not the one that disillusioned liberal voters considering making a run at Trump are going to listen to. People often get so attached to the candidate of their choice that they forget how much further from their vision of the future someone like Trump would be than someone like Clinton. Sanders will have to be very, very clear that it's crucial that the base that carried him this far turn out to vote for Clinton – or else, welcome a president who is anti-choice, espouses xenophobic views, and believes in a host of other things that don't fit with feeling the Bern.