Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Challenger Sanders v Challenger Trump

Sanders and Trump both side with flyover country rather than the Washington bubble.  This approach is valuable on election days, albeit creating much personal inconvenience on the days in between.

As part of this, both will speak some of the truisms that are supposed to be off limits.  E.g., Trump's "American carnage" in his inaugural address (if you think that was not a truism, look here).  Or Sanders' admiration of the Cuban literacy campaign (as impressive as it was for literacy results, it was even more impressive as a political move, helping to cement Castro's power for many decades).

A difference between Sanders and Trump on this is that Trump simultaneously says the politically incorrect while expanding the boundaries of his brand.  He says the truth in a way that goads his opponents into vigorously denying that very truth.  "American carnage" is one example among many.  This is one of Trump's valuable skills for operating in our world where ideas do not have copyrights.  By contrast, when Sanders says something true he says it in a way in which competitors can adopt it for themselves.

Sanders is fundamentally an ideologue, whereas neither Trump nor voters are.  This allows Trump to take on political opponents, and even appreciate their strengths, without personally insulting their voters.  Sanders seems tied to a lot of dogma around social policy.  As long as Sanders has to repeat that Trump is supposedly "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic" etc., he is in imminent danger of the basket-of-deplorables trap: describing half of America as the same or at least having them hear it that way.  I doubt Sanders realizes how similar he sounds to Mrs. Clinton on this subject.

As of 2016, neither Trump nor Sanders showed much allegiance to a political party.  This removes some constraints on their quest for electoral victory, but discards some of the value that party brings, such as credibly lengthening the planning horizon.  That value has to be replaced by something.  Trump helped replace it with his list of judge candidates.  And with long-horizon political aspirations for Ivanka and others.  I don't yet see what will be Sanders' replacement.

Trump is smarter.  Take the controversies that the two ignite.  By insisting that fracking be banned, Sanders seems unaware that Pennsylvania is a swing state.  By more easily acknowledging accomplishments of Castro than of Trump, Sanders seems unaware that Florida is a swing state filled with people who voted for Trump but not Castro.

(also an interesting exposition of "identification in difference-in-differences").

Today Trump is POTUS and has results to showcase.  POTUS Trump will be bragging about promises kept while Sanders through backchannels will be telling people not to worry that his promises will be kept.  But my purpose here is to compare them as challenger candidates.

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