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Opinion Donald Trump explains American politics in a single sentence

What Donald Trump is doing on the campaign trail

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event at Trump Doral golf course in Miami, Florida, U.S. July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)


On Morning Joe Wednesday morning, Donald Trump explained his — and Bernie Sanders’s — big wins in New Hampshire this way:

“We’re being ripped off by everybody. And I guess that’s the thing that Bernie Sanders and myself have in common. We know about the trade. But unfortunately he can’t do anything to fix it, whereas I will. I have the best people in the world. We’re losing hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars a year. And we will fix it. And we’ll make it good. And we’ll bring our jobs back. Bernie Sanders can’t even think in terms of that. The only thing he does know, and he’s right about, is that we’re being ripped off; he says that constantly; and I guess he and I are the only two that really say that.”
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses ecstatic supporters following his win in the New Hampshire primary. (Video: Reuters)

We’re being ripped off, and Trump and Sanders are the only two candidates who are really saying that. They are speaking to people’s sense that our economic and political systems are cheating them, that they are being failed because the underlying rules of those systems have themselves been rigged.

The gaping hole at the heart of Hillary Clinton’s campaign

Sanders defeated Clinton by a remarkable 60-38 with 89 percent of precincts reporting, and exit polls suggested he beat her among most key demographics, including women. Trump won 35 percent, with John Kasich getting 15 percent, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush at around 11 percent, and Marco Rubio finishing a dismal fifth place with 10 percent. Trump won among moderate Republicans. On the Democratic side, Sanders slaughtered Clinton among independents, which perhaps has something to do with his message about a deeply corrupted political and economic system.

Sanders celebrates N.H. primary win after 'yuge' voter turnout. (Video: Reuters)

Here’s what Sanders said in his victory speech Tuesday night:

“Tonight, we served notice to the political and economic establishment of this country that the American people will not continue to accept a corrupt campaign finance system that is undermining American democracy, and we will not accept a rigged economy in which ordinary Americans work longer hours for lower wages, while almost all new income and wealth goes to the top one percent.”

In one sentence, Sanders blamed flat wages and soaring inequality on an economy whose rules have been written to benefit a tiny elite at the expense of everyone else, and tied this directly to a political system whose rules have been written to dis-empower the American people from doing anything about it.

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There are crucial differences between Trump’s and Sanders’s solutions to the problems they’ve identified, of course. Trump says our elites are weak, stupid, and corrupt. Sanders says our elites are being corrupted. The difference between those two things is subtle, but important. Trump says the elites are cheating ordinary Americans by helping illegals, major corporations, and China, and vows to break this corrupt system over his knee and get it working again, because he’s not one of those elites. This is what Trump really means when he says he “can’t be bought”; Trump is not making a sustained argument for political and campaign finance reform; he’s just saying he’s not a member of the class that is cheating you, and he will come in and bust up that class’s party.

Sanders, by contrast, is making a sustained argument for political and campaign finance reform. For him, the culprit is not an elite that is actively trying to help illegals and China and allowing the country to slide into ruin out of national security weakness and ineffectiveness. Rather, it’s an oligarchy that has enriched itself by rigging the economy to effect a massive transfer of wealth upwards and to paralyze our political system from doing anything about it, thus corrupting our political classes. Sanders’s whole policy agenda is framed around this idea. While Clinton tends to focus on incremental solutions aimed at boosting wages and opportunity, and mitigating people’s economic difficulties on the margins, Sanders wants to rid the system entirely of its dependence on big money in order to actively reverse the upward redistribution of wealth that, he says, poses an existential threat to our economy and middle class.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spoke to supporters after conceding to Bernie Sanders in the New Hampshire primary. (Video: Reuters)

In her concession speech, Clinton tried to get back to a more reform-oriented posture by alluding to the very good campaign finance and voting reform proposals she’s rolled out. But Clinton continued to describe Sanders’s success in limited emotional terms — as if he is merely speaking to people’s anger and frustration. Some pundits similarly describe Trump’s appeal as an ability to harness “anger.” Yet there’s more to it than this. What both Trump and Sanders share is that they treat the problem as one of political economy, in which both the economic and political systems are rigged in intertwined ways, thus speaking directly to people’s understandable intellectual assessment of what is deeply wrong with our system and why it no longer works for them.

The long term danger for Clinton is that Sanders has framed the whole race in a way that will make it very hard for her to counter this argument. If the Democratic establishment steps in to rally for Clinton, that risks making her look more like an old-guard political creature of the very establishment that Sanders is indicting, only now it will be rigging the system on her behalf.

To be sure, it’s very possible that Clinton will roll up a string of victories in states with more diverse electorates, and the Sanders challenge will get contained. Polling shows that nonwhite voters view Clinton, not Sanders, as the candidate most likely to bring needed change to Washington, so maybe these voters won’t buy into Sanders’s larger story about what has gone wrong with our system and the dramatic level of reform needed to address it. Similarly, Trump may end up fading, too. The Trump/Sanders indictment of our political economy may end up not having long term potency, after all. But this is the account that both Trump and Sanders have offered for their success, so maybe it’s worth taking seriously.



Sanders ran the tables among nearly every subset of the Democratic electorate here, according to NBC News exit polls, even beating Clinton by a handful of points among women. His showing among young voters was even more eye-popping, with fully 75 percent of voters under 45 rejecting Clinton’s candidacy. He also performed strongly among independent voters.

That Sanders won three quarters of young voters should be a serious wake-up call for Clinton, as it again raises questions as to whether she can energize them sufficiently as the nominee.

* THE CLINTON CAMP’S PERSPECTIVE: From a memo distributed by the Clinton campaign last night:

The first four states represent just 4% of the delegates needed to secure the nomination; the 28 states that vote (or caucus) in March will award 56% of the delegates needed to win….the March states better reflect the true diversity of the Democratic Party and the nation….When you take into account the large number of Super Delegate commitments we’ve secured, as well as Hillary’s commanding lead in the polls in delegate-rich states, she is in a very strong position to become the nominee.

It’s true that Clinton has deep structural advantages that still make her the favorite, but one thing to watch for is whether the polling begins to shift among nonwhites.

* HOW HILLARY WILL APPEAL TO NONWHITES: Karen Tumulty previews the Clinton approach to come:, which began with a visit to the predominantly African American city of Flint, Michigan:

Clinton also will be speaking more about her work as a young woman investigating racial discrimination by private academies in Alabama….She plans to continue hammering Sanders for his mixed record on gun control, which her campaign sees as a top priority among African Americans. She will also argue that his proposal for a government-run health-care system is not as good for low-income and minority Americans as the existing one set up under the Affordable Care Act.

Defending Obamacare aggressively could play well among African Americans; watch whether Sanders tries to finesse his criticism of it as woefully inadequate as he continues his push for single payer.

* THE CASH ROLLS IN FOR BERNIE: Early this morning, the Sanders campaign announced that as of 12:30 a.m., the campaign had hauled in $2.6 million after the polls closed. What this means: Sanders’s national constituency will be there to send money every time Sanders wins, loses, or has a big moment, meaning this battle could grind on for months.

 * WHY GOP ELITES ARE DISMAYED BY RUBIO DEBACLE: The Associated Press reports that GOP elites are deeply worried about Rubio’s fifth place showing in New Hampshire, because:

Rubio’s underwhelming performance in New Hampshire eliminates the prospect the Florida senator might emerge as the Republican establishment’s favored alternative as the race heads into South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states….between now and March 15 is South Carolina, Nevada and the more than a dozen states that vote on March 1 — time that Trump, and Senator Ted Cruz, can use to further their edge.

Rubio has his eyes on a big prize in Florida on March 15th, but how much more damage will he sustain between now and then?

* RUBIO TO GET PUMMELED IN SOUTH CAROLINA: Politico points out that Marco Rubio tanked in New Hampshire after getting blasted by ads from chief rival Jeb Bush, and that there’s lots more of that to come in South Carolina, where Team Jeb senses an opportunity:

Rubio’s campaign estimated that Bush and his allies spent as much as $16 million attacking him in New Hampshire. And they’re bitter about it, though they are already expecting more of the same over the next week in South Carolina. The pro-Bush Right to Rise has $495,000 in ad time in the state booked, according to The Tracking Firm. Rubio’s campaign has $630,000 reserved and the pro-Rubio super PAC Conservative Solutions PAC has $660,000.

Maybe Jeb and Marco will go down together, in a kind of death embrace.

Marco Rubio self-destructs in New Hampshire

* TRUMP’S NEXT STEPS, NOW THAT HE’S WON SOMETHING: The New York Times reports that Donald Trump was disoriented after his Iowa loss, and uncertain how to proceed, but now faces the decision of what to do after he has actually won a contest:

It remains to be seen which version of Mr. Trump will emerge in the Southern states, where deeply conservative voters could decide the winners. Mr. Trump prefers the rally format visually and because it is easier for him to perform in. He has resisted calls from his advisers to invest more heavily in the race….Mr. Trump barely invested resources in New Hampshire, spending only on advertising in January.

And yet, Trump winning the nomination is now a real possibility.

* GOP NEEDS TO TREAT TRUMP AS THE FRONTRUNNER: Nate Silver notes that Trump has now won more than 20 percent in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and runs the history:

Between 1980 and 2012, nine Republican candidates received at least 20 percent of the vote in each state. Four of them eventually received their party’s nomination and three others came reasonably close; the final two (Buchanan in 1996 and Ron Paul in 2012) were factional candidates who probably never had much of a shot.

Uh oh. And South Carolina is a good fit for Trump, too.