During a recent town hall-style meeting with Donald Trump supporters, former Democratic presidential candidate and independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said that many Trump supporters are not racists (nor sexists or homophobes), and that they voted for Trump primarily out of fear and a disdain for the status quo. While Sanders' comments may perhaps have come as a surprise to some, largely due to his status as a strongly left-leaning politician, they do align with how he has historically portrayed the Trump campaign and the roles of class and race in American politics.
Sanders' most recent comments came during a MSNBC special on Monday, where Sanders, along with reporter Chris Hayes, spoke to Trump supporters in Kenosha, Wisconsin. In further expounding on his viewpoint described above, Sanders indicated that he believed Trump won the presidential election because of his deviation from the norm, both in terms of politics and political experience, as well as "political correctness." In describing the latter, Sanders stated, "[Trump] said he will not be politically correct ... I think he said some outrageous and painful things, but I think people are tired of the same old politically correct rhetoric."
Additionally, Sanders indicated he believed Trump was able to tap into Americans' (most likely particular working class white Americans in particular) concerns about the future and feelings of disenfranchisement. In reflecting on this notion and Trump's ability to appeal to people's fears, Sanders said, "There's a lot of pain in this country, people are scared and people are worried ... People are tired of status quo politics. [Trump] broke through that."
While Sanders' thoughts on Trump's victory seemed to surprise and outrage some, they do align with how he has historically portrayed the Trump campaign and its appeal. Back in November, while trying to sway undecided voters, Sanders tweeted very similar sentiments, saying, "I do not believe that most of the people who are thinking about voting for Mr. Trump are racist or sexist ... Some are, but I think most are people who are hurting, they're worried about their kids, they're working longer hours for lower wages."
Sanders' prior comments as well as those made on Monday reflect his apparent tendency to prioritize class issues when describing American voting preferences and voter needs while appearing to somewhat discount the influence of race. However, as an article from The Guardian aptly described, while Sanders is accurate in assessing the "damaging roles establishment politics and economics play in the lives of millions of Americans," only acknowledging this class divide through a colorblind lens is inaccurate and imprudent.
Overall, Sanders' comments on Trump supporters do not come as a surprise, considering his previous statements on the influence of class versus race in determining outcomes for Americans. However, they are still nonetheless striking and perhaps ironic in a post-election period where racial tension has been exceedingly high.