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Trump and Sanders: Breaking the Political Establishment

By Belén Bonilla | 5/12/16 10:03pm | Updated 5/15/16 7:57pm
Melissa Kelley / American Word Magazine

This year’s election has involved two very unexpected twists for the Republican and Democratic party establishments: Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton certainly did not foresee the momentum and support for her opponent, Sanders, and no one expected Donald Trump to get this close to presidency and potentially the Republican nomination.


Sanders went from a senator from Vermont to being hot on the heels of life-time politician Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries. Trump went from a self-absorbed businessman to claiming to “make America great again.” Both are running without their party establishments’ support. So how did these two wildcards manage to gain so much support so quickly?


Elizabeth Sherman, a professor in the School of Public Affairs, weighed in, “The United States is a 50/50 nation. 50/50 Democrats and Republicans. Right now, we have a majority Republican Senate, a majority Republican House, but we have a Democrat in the White House. As a result, we are not going to have any big legislation… so, people out there feel like they’re [Congressional representatives] not doing anything,” said Sherman.


Gridlock isn’t the only flaw the American people see in government. “They’re both against big money in politics… and, the masses are very upset about money in politics,” said Sherman.


Interestingly enough, no presidential candidate is more tied to a party establishment than Clinton, accepting both Super PAC and Wall Street donations, but this has both increased and decreased her support. Sanders is running a grassroots campaign and set a new record for individual campaign donations at this point in a campaign, having received more than $2.3 million, while Clinton has only recently grazed the million mark.


On party establishments, Howlader Nashara, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, said, “I don’t know if I genuinely believe they are fighting for the interests of people, or if they are being bought by lobbyists.” For some, the appeal of supporting anti-establishment candidates largely comes from knowing the candidates will be tied to the American people.


For others, Clinton’s ties to the Democratic party establishment aren’t much of a let down. “I think my inclination is to support Hillary Clinton, just given the fact that she’s been in politics for a long time and I agree with a lot of her stances,” said Leila Nasser, a senior in the School of Communications. Perhaps the establishment isn’t completely broken if it still appeals to some.


While Sanders is bolstered by his 16 years in the Senate, Trump has been enjoying his multi-millionaire businessman status. Republicans supporting Trump tend to do so because he is not an establishment “puppet,” but many question his ability to progress without establishment ties. “Running a company is very different from governing a country,” said Sally Shelton-Colby, former U.S. ambassador and professor in the School of International Service.


Facing the facts, Trump and Sanders are both doing exceptionally well, though Trump’s success worries many Americans and individuals abroad. Tamar Jakeli, an Georgian exchange student in AU’s Washington Semester Program, said, “The world kind of sees American elections right now as the IQ test for the U.S. to see whether it’s going to pass the test or not. It doesn’t look good so far.”


Thanks to Sanders and Trump, the strength of establishment politics is being tested. While it has not completely broken yet, people on the establishment side have certainly been offered choices worth evaluating based on the popularity of these two wildcard candidates.