Bernie Sanders And Donald Trump Represent The Campaigns You Can Run Without Big Money

The comparisons between the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump likely have both candidates flustered. The two are not exactly fans of each other.

“That showed such weakness,” exclaimed Trump on Sanders's relinquishing of a microphone to two Black Lives Matter activists.

“I think Donald Trump's views on immigration and his slurring of the Latino community is not something that should be going on in the year 2015. And to me, it's an embarrassment for our country,” said Sanders of Trump earlier this month.

It is true that the two men have very different worldviews and backgrounds. Trump is a billionaire who made his fortune as a sort of mega-slum lord. Sanders is one of the Senate's poorest members, who has spent his life in public service defending the working class.

But because both men are eluding the chase for Big Money donors – Trump by self-funding and Sanders by amassing an army of small donors – they are able to campaign in ways that are virtually unique among national campaigns. Despite their differences, their campaigns represent actual insurgencies in a field typically dominated by elite donors.

Trump's Iconoclasm

In a truly rare moment in Republican Party history, over twenty million television viewers were able to see a frank description of money in politics, thanks entirely to Donald Trump.

He was asked about a comment he made in a previous interview, about why he has donated to Democrats. “When you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do,” he replied. He followed up on the comment at the debate, saying, “You'd better believe it. If I ask them, if I need them, you know, most of the people on this stage I've given to, just so you understand, a lot of money.”

Not a single candidate challenged Trump's remarks (a few protested that he had not given money to them). Trump's remarks represented the singular moment in the party's national politics that the power of money itself has been frankly discussed – and it was something he was able to do because he isn't seeking anyone else's money, he has plenty of his own.

That's probably also why Trump has been outspoken about tax policy. “I know the hedge fund guys. ... These guys don't really build anything. They shuffle papers back and forth,” he told MSNBC. “They're paying nothing and it's ridiculous,” he noted on CBS, pointing out how hedge funds dodge tax responsibilities. “They’re energetic, they’re very smart. But a lot of them, it’s like they’re paper pushers. They make a fortune, they pay no tax...The hedge funds guys are getting away with murder.” He vowed to put out a plan to close the loopholes they are taking advantage of.

Trump is also challenging the GOP's biggest funders directly. “I wish good luck to all of the Republican candidates that traveled to California to beg for money etc. from the Koch Brothers. Puppets?” he tweeted, mocking the Koch Brothers donor confab that leading candidates attended.

Bernie's Challenge To The System

In a New York Times editorial the last week of August, the paper praised Sanders for amassing over 400,000 donors, with the average contribution being just $31.20. While Trump is speaking against aspects of the political system that others are too cowed by big money to denounce, Sanders is trying to dismantle it altogether.

He has made overturning Citizens United and publicly financing campaigns priorities of his run for office. While the Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton remains purposefully indecisive about the Keystone XL pipeline – which is wrapped up in various Big Money interests – Sanders is a steadfast opponent. While private prison lobbyists are fundraising for Clinton, Sanders wants to ban private prisons. Clinton doesn't have a health care platform, while Sanders is calling for Medicare to replace the entire politically powerful health insurance industry.

This freedom from Big Money is also allowing Sanders to be very specific in his challenges to the corporate elite. While Clinton may make vague references to the ultra-rich, Sanders is typically far more specific. Here's a picture his social media staffers use based on remarks he made on the Walton family, the Wal-Mart heirs:

A little different than Hillary Clinton – who sat on WalMart's board of advisers for six years and never raised labor concerns.

Insurgencies To What End?

The question remains what exactly will come of the Trump and Sanders insurgencies. Trump is the GOP front-runner, but polls poorly in general election polls; there's also the fact that few actually believe he's in it to win it – rather than seek attention. Sanders, on the other hand, is gaining in polls and actually is competitive with his GOP rivals – but still will run into a mountain of money Clinton has raised as well as elite and super-delegate endorsements.

Yet win or lose, these candidacies, driven by very different ideologies and goals, do seem to converge on representing a challenge to the Big Money status quo. More progressives are likely to agree that Sanders represents this challenge than Trump, but there's something they should remember. While Trump's offensive antics and often laughable rhetoric often represents that of a clown, you should recall that in the old days, it was often the court jester who was the only one liberated enough to occasionally tell the  truth.

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