The Republican Party has been baffled by the rise of Donald Trump. When the controversial real estate developer first declared his candidacy, the New York Times wrote that they couldn’t think of a way he could possibly win the presidency.
Now, Donald Trump is the national front runner, tied for first in Iowa and second in the polls in New Hampshire. He has succeeded in toppling candidates who were previously expected to be strong contenders for the White House.
On the left, we’ve seen Bernie Sanders, the Democratic socialist senator from Vermont who was previously considered a long shot for the nomination.
While he is far from being the front runner, his surge at the polls has shocked pundits who considered former Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary Clinton a lockup for the nomination. And with a fairly good performance at the most recent debate, it seems like Senator Sanders isn’t going anywhere.
To call Bernie Sanders the left’s version of Donald Trump is a stretch, though. Unlike the Donald, Bernie Sanders focuses on the issues rather than personality, doesn’t say ridiculous things for attention, avoids personal attacks on other candidates and isn’t a narcissist.
But the same force that has elevated Donald Trump in the polls is elevating Bernie Sanders. Both candidates play on a growing frustration with the state of the country and the political establishment.
For Bernie, it’s a liberal response to conservative elements of the Obama administration and the relatively moderate stances of Secretary Clinton.
For the Donald, it’s the reaction of white Americans who are bitter about what they perceive to be the overtaking of America by minorities, as well as a frustration with an establishment uncomfortable with the xenophobia of the far right.
Both candidates are also driven by an electorate that is increasingly interested more in how genuine a candidate appears than in the ideas he or she poses. Take Donald Trump. Trump’s supporters find his disregard for political correctness and his blunt manner of speech appealing. They believe that he means what he says.
And in truth, it is somewhat refreshing to have a Republican politician speaking about campaign finance reform. However, that type of thinking is leading a dangerous individual closer and closer to the White House.
Bernie’s supporters, by contrast, honestly find his beliefs compelling, but they are still largely drawn to his personality and genuine demeanor.
True, his legion of fans may assert that his ideas are the most attractive aspect of his candidacy—however, were his personality less charismatic and more similar to Lincoln Chafee’s, he would undoubtedly lose his current levels of support. His campaign is issues-based, but personality plays a large role.
Both campaigns also draw support from disenfranchised voters who may have been tempted to skip the polls if these candidates had not been in the race.
This whole situation presents a problem. While voting based on personality may sometimes get us a good candidate, it’ll sometimes get us a Donald Trump.
This type of voting turns politics into a reality TV show where the audience selects the funniest, most outrageous candidate as if it didn’t affect their lives.
But, of course, it does, and electing a candidate because you like their personality can lead to serious problems.
Electing candidates this way has been a long tradition in our politics—it’s what gave us two terms of President Bush—but it’s now gone to its greatest extreme.
Personality will always have a role to play in politics, but it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not the most important thing. If I had to choose between a candidate who appears disingenuous but is qualified and a candidate who is unqualified but appears genuine, I’d always choose the former of the two.
—Jesse Horowitz ’19 is undeclared.