Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are tapping into the electorate’s disaffection with status quo politicians. On the Republican side, other political outsiders are also reaping the benefits of the rebellion. A recent poll indicates combined support for Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina exceeds fifty percent among Republicans. To the extent that Republican voters are now enthralled with anti-establishment candidates, their support may begin to wain once the fever breaks and they become more focused on actual policy positions. While illegal immigration, abortion, and gay marriage provide an abundance of red meat, voters seeking rational proposals on more mundane issues, such as tax reform and healthcare, are not likely to be impressed.
As the Republican front runner, and having now pledged not to run as an independent, the questions are likely going to get harder to answer for Mr. Trump. Bluff and bluster won’t get the job done. For anyone viewing the office of the presidency seriously and seeking real leadership, Donald Trump has already been eliminated from consideration. But, what about Bernie Sanders?
Bernie is not so much making promises as he is creating a vision of what is possible. The fact that his vision resonates with a large swath of the electorate is evidenced by the crowds he has attracted over the course of his short campaign. An organic grassroots campaign has also sprung up on social media that is arguably unprecedented in its scope and organization. Like Donald Trump (although not an official campaign talking point), Bernie Sanders is drawing support from the progressive (left) wing of the Democratic Party. They consider Hillary Clinton as the establishment candidate and are not content to accept her as the inevitable nominee.
Senator Sanders will likely continue to garner support among young people due to his positions on healthcare, college tuition, and income inequality. That is fine, and they will be an important constituency, especially if turnout among young voters can be increased significantly. However, the “socialist” moniker will continue to be a real obstacle. He must overcome it by convincing centrists that what he proposes is not totally in left field.
While a push for an increased minimum wage and free tuition at public universities (lower interest rates on student debt as a fallback position) are equally attractive, and can be easily related to boosting economic activity by putting more disposable income in the pockets of consumers, a single-payer healthcare system will continue to be a hard sell. History has demonstrated the lengths to which special interest groups will go in order to prevent it, but it may be time for wider acceptance. Even moderate Republicans must now admit that our healthcare system is in dire need of radical reform. We cannot go back and, while “Obamacare” has reduced the number of uninsured, it has not controlled costs. A single-payer healthcare plan is a major policy proposal, and the Sanders’ campaign must get beyond simply declaring that healthcare should be every citizen’s “right”.
Senator Sanders should begin hammering on estimates of savings (both short-term and long-term) that could be realized by eliminating the various agencies and programs (federal, state, and local) currently administering government-paid healthcare, including the amount going to fund overhead of private insurance companies under “Obamacare”. Those savings could then be compared to an expected increased cost of providing additional care. It should then be explained that if such changes result in a net increase of cost, the difference could be more easily reconciled by working within a much less complex system. Such a system should appeal to all voters desiring a smaller government footprint.
Without such a rationale, we can certainly expect more of the same- cries of a big government, socialist takeover of our healthcare.