What Trump and Sanders Have in Common

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are the two most surprising candidates to emerge as major factors in the 2016 presidential race. They draw the biggest crowds. They’re shouty. But there the resemblance ends, Adele M. Stan insists, in an American Prospect column that calls the comparison “the latest stupidity from Punditville.”

Far be it from me to reflexively defend my hometown. (In my defense, I’m a transplant from Boise!) But Stan is not the only one making this point; I’ve heard it from others on the left, who shudder at any likeness being drawn between their populist hero and the other side’s. The thing is, they’re wrong, and the pundits are right.

Trump and Sanders share an angry tone and a raw, un-politician-like affect that their supporters find refreshingly authentic. But the similarities don’t end there by any means. Trump and Sanders have a remarkable number of policy stances in common. Here’s a quick list:

The remarkable amount of policy convergence between Trump and Sanders helps explain why both (but especially Trump, who holds more positions at odds with his party’s platform) appear so extreme and threatening to their respective party establishments. Their shared anti-elitism isn’t a pose—it’s substantive opposition to the policy positions held by party elites they view as corporatist sellouts.

I understand the impulse of lefties like Stan to insist that Sanders is far more serious and constructive than the man they see as “an authoritarian blowhard.” But I also know some liberals who welcome the comparison. Trump’s success, they say, is proof that (a version of) Sanders’ populism has broad appeal, beyond the confines of the Democratic base, with Republicans and independent voters.

There’s no getting around the fact that Trump and Sanders have a lot in common. Maybe liberals ought to just embrace it.