As long as we’re in this political Annus Bizarricus (or whatever the Latin-ism would be), why not take it one pattern-shattering one step further. Why not make the case for a Trump-Sanders (or Sanders-Trump) fusion ticket?
I’m not saying that it’s likely to happen, or that it’s even possible. Nor am I saying that it should necessarily happen for the good of the country. What I am saying is that it’s nothing less than stunning at how strong a case can be made for this merger, at least on paper.
Clearly, there’s a vast stylistic gap between the two candidates. Real estate tycoon Donald Trump flaunts his jet set, billionaire lifestyle. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders clearly is proud of his Ben-and-Jerry set Sixties roots. The core Trump and Sanders constituencies seem dramatically different, too – downwardly mobile, socially and culturally traditional older middle class and working class white men and women for the former, college-educated, relatively affluent younger whites, and aging Baby Boomers who remain socially and culturally young at heart for the latter.
But odd couple pairings as such are hardly unknown in American politics. Think Obama-Biden. Or Reagan-Bush. Or Carter-Mondale. Or JFK-LBJ. Nor is it unknown for voting blocs that appear to have nothing in common suddenly to link arms to transform the political landscape. Think “New Deal coalition” – which ruled American politics for decades thanks to southern Democrats joining with Catholic workers from the big northeastern cities. And the modern Republican party has succeeded largely by appealing to a wide variety of conservatives who lately seem increasingly and deeply resentful of each other: one percenters and other “country club conservatives,” those downwardly mobile middle- and working-class whites, evangelical/cultural conservatives, and libertarians.
And think of the issue stances that Trump and Sanders themselves have in common – which include the hottest-button subjects of the present campaign. Both plainly have it in for Wall Street and its unearned and often destructive privileges. As a result, both obviously want an end to a campaign finance regime that favors the plutocrats and other moneyed special interests. Both strongly opposed the second Iraq War. (Although Trump has promised to defeat ISIS militarily, mainly with American power, he’s also hinted at a more standoffish approach, at least at first. Sanders has suggested that Middle Eastern countries themselves should do the heaviest military lifting.) Both have been outspoken critics of America’s current, offshoring-happy trade policies. And although Sanders has recently sought to assure Democratic Hispanic voters of his Open Borders bona fides, his earlier stance on immigration issues made clear his grave – and Trump-like – concerns that mass influxes of poorly skilled and educated newcomers in particular would kneecap American workers’ wages.
Moreover, largely as a result of these broad areas of agreement – and potential agreement – both are suspect partisans in the eyes of many Republicans and Democrats – and for entirely understandable reasons.
It’s even easy to see, at least in theory, where certain stretches of Trump-Sanders common ground could foster consensus in areas where they don’t appear to see eye to eye. For example, fighting climate change has been one of Sanders’ major political passions. Trump has said little on the subject. But trade measures that significantly cut imports from China would limit total global greenhouse gas emissions and pollution levels by slowing the growth of China’s appallingly filthy manufacturing sector. And by doing so, it would enable domestic manufacturers to accept stricter regulations on their own emissions etc without losing global competitiveness, and/or feeling greater pressure to send production to China and other pollution/greenhouse havens.
Another example (though not remotely such a no-brainer): Sanders is strongly pro-choice. Reacting to charges that Planned Parenthood has engaged in and even profited from trade fetal tissue, Trump has been highly critical of the organization and the government subsidies it receives. Yet abortion clearly isn’t an issue that excites Trump one way or the other. So if he really is a master deal cutter, he would surely be open to some kind of compromise.
One possibility; He emphatically endorses the essence of Roe vs. Wade and the principle of women controlling their own bodies – and futures – in exchange for a wrist-slap for Planned Parenthood and even a promise by the organization to steer widely clear of the body parts business (in a way that skirted the issue of its actual record, which is as yet unclear). In turn, it’s possible that supporters of both candidates have become so trusting in their apolitical instincts, and so tired of the dueling talking points of more conventional politicians on both sides, that a deal along these lines could pave the way for a stronger national consensus on the issue.
In fact, the main obstacles to this “Dream Ticket” arguably are personal. And, as The Donald might put it, “Yuuuuuuge.” Who would get top billing? Could they work out some kind of co-presidency deal (which would need to be informal due to Constitutional issues)? Could they exchange the presidency and vice presidency after two years?
I’m sure that readers will be able to think of many more pro- and anti-arguments – and I hope you’ll bring them up in comments! But I also hope that the skeptics in particular will keep two points in mind. First, although America’s major political parties in their current forms make sense in many other respects, in many others, they’re completely illogical and inconsistent – as is being made clear by the strength of “outsider” candidates, and in particular by many Republican voters’ lack of interest in Trump’s ideological purity. Second, American politics has seen major realignments before, and generally within the two-party framework.
So even if Trump and Sanders won’t or can’t pull this revolution off, it still might simply be awaiting a different, more ideological and temperamentally compatible, and more imaginative group of leaders. Which is to say, it might simply be awaiting a better generation of politicians.