PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — For many New Hampshire voters casting their votes across the snowy state Tuesday, the choice came down to which of two candidates was most likely to stir a yuge disruption in Washington: self-described Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders and real estate mogul Donald Trump.
Ahem, pardon. A huge disruption.
“I think they’re both honest. I don’t think they’re putting on a face,” said Kandy Dennison, 37, an independent voter who attended a Trump rally Sunday in Plymouth, N.H. “And if I couldn’t have Trump, I’d like to have Bernie.”
It’s a phenomenon that seems conspicuously New Hampshirian — where politics is often driven by personality rather than philosophy — but is not altogether uncommon around the country. It is, after all, largely the tone Sanders and Trump adopted and not necessarily their policy proposals that first piqued the interest of many disillusioned voters who are eager to see change in Washington. In New Hampshire, where independent voters can vote in either primary, voters' ultimate selections are often more about the candidate than the party.
Carole Beal, an independent voter in Plymouth, N.H., offered that she, too, liked both Trump and Sanders — and that the similarities between the two extend beyond their widely caricatured New York accents.
“They both tell it like it is,” Beal said when asked what was similar about them. She added that economic issues, which Trump and Sanders both talk about regularly, are very important to her.
The political dissonance at hand can certainly seem jarring — except that both candidates have ascended to the top tier of their parties through their anti-establishment messages and pledges not to accept super PAC money from special interests on Wall Street. Those themes are prominently featured in both Trump’s and Sanders’s stump speeches.
“If we do not get a handle on money in politics and the degree to which big money controls the political process in this country, nobody is going to bring about the changes that is needed in this country for the middle class and working families,” Sanders said at Thursday’s Democratic debate. He has frequently used Democratic rival Hillary Clinton's enormous fundraising haul from Wall Street against her.
“Everybody on the stage with me and on the other aside, they’re taken care of by special interests. They have their lobbyists, their special interests; they’re getting tremendous amounts of money,” Trump told a crowd of 5,000 Monday in Manchester, N.H.
Their aggressive missives against economic elites and the politicians who love them are particularly potent this election, when income inequality and shriveling class mobility have motivated the populist anger of millions around the country, irrespective of political persuasion.
“It’s difficult,” Beal, 82, said about the economy. "I just retired this year because it’s so hard."
Both candidates indeed use strikingly similar language about issues most important to middle-class voters, such as Social Security. That anti-big-money and anti-Washington rhetoric has electrified voters in the early-voting states and beyond. And so in some cases, Sanders and Trump have also competed against each other for voters, rather than against their respective party rivals.
"We're going to save Social Security, too, by the way. I mean you've been paying in for years, and now they want to start chopping away," Trump said Monday.
“The Koch brothers, by the way, want to destroy Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, every governmental program passed since the 1930s,” Sanders said Thursday.
Sanders and Trump — for all the criticism they face about being unrealistic in their promises — lean toward aspirational rhetoric, assuring voters they have solutions to the country's myriad problems that Washington has been unable or unwilling to fix. They project confidence in a political moment when voters yearn for leaders who can do away with the deep sense of economic malaise engulfing the country.
But how do fans of both candidates reconcile their ideological differences?
“It’s about the person,” said Beal.
“I just mainly go by the debates and how they handle themselves during conflict. It’s the person; how they handle it when it comes down,” said Pam Carroll, 51.“I think we need someone in here like Trump who can take control. To be a bully; I’m sorry but I’m being honest. To take control of China and Mexico. We need to take our country back.”
And in some cases, the most important similarity between Sanders and Trump has nothing to do with policy or decibels — it is who they’re running against.
More than anything, said Dennison, “I don’t want Hillary."