By Jeff Cahlon
Donald Trump’s campaign event following his recent victory in five Northeastern states, which all but assured he’ll be the Republican nominee for president, was classic Trump.
His main topic was the greatness of Donald Trump. How amazingly well his campaign is doing. How he’s built a “great company” with “phenomenal financials;” How he’s actually a “unifier;” How he’s a “very smart person” who went to the “best schools.”
Trump tossed in some fresh put-downs of his remaining, hapless Republican rivals. For of the presumptive Democratic nominee, who he called “crooked Hillary,” he said has “nothing going” for her except the “women’s card.”
There was little discussion of policy, though he did promise to prevent companies from moving jobs overseas, while remaining characteristically vague about just how he’ll accomplish this feat. And of course no Trump speech is complete without a promise to “build that wall.”
For a candidacy whose success has been widely attributed to its ability to appeal to voter anger, the event, like Trump’s campaign in general, was also notably devoid of well, anger. To be sure, Trump did bemoan “jobs being sucked away” overseas, and how Americans are “making less money … than they were 18 years ago.” But even when the words were seemingly angry, the tone was nonchalant, confident, even playful. Trump may think the “country is going to Hell,” he doesn’t seem too broken up about it. He looks like he’s having fun.
While Trump romped to a five-state sweep, his “anti-establishment” counterpart in the Democratic primary did not have a good night. Bernie Sanders lost 4 of 5 states to Hillary Clinton, effectively ending whatever chances Sanders still had to win the Democratic nomination.
Sanders’ election-night speech provides a clue as to why he failed to match Trump’s success. Sanders delivered an even more dire assessment of the condition of the country than Trump’s. The country needs to face some “hard truths,” Sanders warned, although doing so would not be “pleasant.” Sanders railed against a “rigged economy” with a “grotesque level of income and wealth income inequality,” where the “bottom 90%” are “working longer hours for lower wages if you’re lucky enough to have a job.” If that’s not bad enough, Americans are also suffering from a “corrupt campaign system” and a “corrupt federal tax system.” We are fast becoming “a country and an economy run by a handful of billionaires,” Sanders wailed.
But if Trump delivers his “anger” with a wink and a nod, Sanders’ anger about the litany of horrors he describes is nothing if not deadly earnest. Sanders is actually mad.
Such unvarnished anger certainly has its appeal, particularly at a time when polls show a majority of Americans believe the country is on the “wrong track” and desire “radical change.” It’s undoubtedly helped the Sanders campaign attract the support of the millions of Americans who are “feeling the Bern” and flocking to his campaign.
But such anger also has its limits, particularly for voters who are not predisposed to its underlying premises. By its nature, anger isn’t a particularly attractive emotion. Without an accompanying sense of levity, it can get tiresome and come across as overly self-righteous and vitriolic. It’s “not pleasant,” as Sanders himself acknowledged in his election-night speech. Tellingly in this regard, Sanders has done relatively poorly with older voters. Most people tend to mellow with age (although this phenomenon has bypassed Sanders himself). If they become less idealistic, they are also less prone to self-righteous anger. And there is no getting around it: Sanders is a buzzkill.
So Sanders, despite being in many ways the more credible of the “anti-establishment” candidates–the one with decades of experience in Congress, and serious proposals on healthcare, education, and other issues– has been forced to acknowledge that “the odds are against” his campaign, amid calls for him to drop out.
Trump, meanwhile, is consolidating his support as the presumptive Republican nominee.
It’s enough to make a Sanders supporter really angry.