The most important message from this year’s tumultuous presidential primaries may be that millions of voters in both parties have grown sufficiently disenchanted with conventional political options to vote for candidates who not long ago would have been considered beyond the pale of viable choices.
20 or even 10 years ago, both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders might have struggled to advance beyond the margins of their parties. Yet after this week’s five primaries, Trump has drawn just over 10 million votes and Sanders 9.3 million. Both have built followings that are not only large but also more impassioned than those attracted by their more traditional rivals, from Ted Cruz to Hillary Clinton.
Each man’s support has displayed limits. Sanders’s four losses on Tuesday leave him confronting the grim math of Clinton’s virtually inevitable nomination. And while Trump’s emphatic five-state sweep solidified him as the clear front-runner for the GOP nomination, polls consistently show him trailing Clinton in a prospective general election.
But whether or not either man ultimately claims the White House, their rise still signals a searing vote of no-confidence in the results produced by the nation’s political leadership. Though they embody very different political impulses, Trump and Sanders have been propelled by a common torrent of discontent that more conventional leaders will ignore at their peril. “People feel like the way things have been running for the last couple of years, if not decades, has not been working out for them,” the Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson said. “They have been using traditional remedies to address an illness and it’s not really working so all of a sudden the experimental treatment with all the crazy side effects starts looking a lot more appealing.”