The radical appeal of Bernie Sanders
2015-08-01 16:04:46 -
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By Shwetali Sapte

 

With nearly 16 months to go till the next US presidential election, the Republican Party nomination is in high demand – already sought after by no less than 16 candidates.

 

And with a recent rise in polls for candidates like Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, it seems as though there are relatively fewer contenders on the Democratic end of the spectrum to challenge them. 

 

When lesser-known Democrats like Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb launched their campaigns, most centre or left-wing Americans remained faithful to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is considered the frontrunner for the Democrat nomination by far.

 

However, following an informal announcement at the end of April, Democrats were presented with a new face ready to take on his competitors.

 

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has assured other contenders as well as the public that he’s up to the challenge. In an April interview with USA Today, he said: “I am running in this election to win.”

 

 

Unprecedented rise

In the three months since, Sanders has seen an unprecedented rise in polls and is drawing the public to his rallies in ever-increasing numbers. 

 

Nearly 10,000 attended his campaign events in Wisconsin and Portland, Oregon in July, while a recent CNN/WMUR poll showed him to be within eight points of Clinton in New Hampshire.

 

What’s more, his 19 July rally in Arizona – a historically Republican state – was moved to a bigger venue by popular demand to accommodate 12,000 people. 

 

While Clinton hasn’t yet publicly spoken about Sanders, the former’s campaign strategists and public following are just starting to take notice of the underdog.

 

Sanders may not have Clinton’s massive corporation-fuelled funding or her high-profile name, but he has a legacy of his own. His stance on progressive issues has never wavered, while Clinton stood by the 2003 Iraq War, opposed same-sex marriage till 2013 and supports increased intervention in foreign conflicts.

 

The fiery reformist stands out for another reason: he has novel views that he shares neither with Clinton nor any other challenger. He is the only self-proclaimed democratic socialist in the running – the likes of which the American public has never seen before.

 

 

Radical appeal

“Sanders appeals to the more radical base of the party,” says Kenneth McDonagh, a lecturer in international relations at Dublin City University. “[His] message is timely: he’s running as an outsider, pro-equality, anti-war candidate at a time when these positions have a particularly high level of support in the US.”

 

That is why Sanders is attracting new followers by the thousands. Conservative or liberal, supportive or opposing, they all have one thing in common: they are curious to find out what he stands for.

 

Socialism and the United States have always been strange bedfellows. In the past, this relationship manifested itself through American-Soviet rivalry.

 

But a quarter of a century after the end of the Cold War, socialism is no more an aggressive, monolithic force driven by Moscow.

 

It is instead presented through a 73-year-old Jewish progressive who isn’t afraid to call for fighting income inequality, a better universal healthcare system, debt-free college, action on climate change and Wall Street reform.

 

His campaign’s unexpected success has taken the country by surprise. At his Wisconsin rally on 2 July, Sanders said: “Tonight we have made a little bit of history… We have more people at any meeting for a candidate of president of the United States than any other candidate.”

 

Robert Schmuhl, an American Studies and Journalism professor at the University of Notre Dame, says Sanders “is giving voice to the anger that’s growing in the American citizenry… His supporters want a return to a level playing field in politics.” 

 

However, while Schmuhl believes he’s “pushing Clinton to the left… he probably won’t be able to keep her from the nomination.”

 

 

‘Inflammatory’ Trump

Another candidate who’s pulling in unprecedented crowds and dominating Republican primary polls these days is Donald Trump. 

 

The property magnate’s conservative stance is resonating with those on the far right. During his campaign announcement on 16 June, he stated that Mexican immigrants “are bringing drugs and bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

 

However, many believe that his inflammatory anti-immigrant talk could damage the Republican Party’s chances in the long run by alienating Latino voters, who were 10 per cent of the total voter turnout in the 2012 election.

 

Although several organisations – including NBC, Macy’s, and Univision – have severed ties with Trump over his comments, he continues to defend his opinions despite reportedly being cautioned by Republican Party National Committee chair Reince Priebus to tone down his rhetoric.

 

Dr Diarmuid Torney of Dublin City University, believes that Trump’s views “will certainly strengthen support among the right wing elements of the Republican Party, [but] his views are likely to alienate the middle ground more than Clinton’s or Sanders’s views will.” 

 

If the Republican image continues to suffer, Democrats are likely to receive a push in the right direction as immigrants turn to Sanders and Clinton instead.

 

Clinton, meanwhile, has all the financial support and media attention she needs. But Sanders has inspired a grassroots movement that’s growing with every rally. He refuses to accept corporate funding and has $15m from private donors, while his primary challenger expects to raise $2.5bn.

 

Nevertheless, his campaign is proving that money doesn’t equal dedication. In his USA Today interview, he said: “It probably would not be a good idea for people to underestimate me.”

TAGS : US Presidential Election Campaigns Donald Trump Bernie Sanders Republican Party Democratic Party
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