Trump camp looks to woo disaffected Sanders voters

Some see overlap between non-traditional Republican, non-traditional Democratic messages

Last Updated:
March 16, 2020 - 1:10pm

With Joe Biden’s decisive Democratic primary victories Tuesday night over rival Bernie Sanders, Republicans are eyeing messages that could woo disaffected, anti-establishment Sanders voters to President Trump in the general election.

From war zone troop drawdowns to criminal justice reform, revised trade deals, immigration control and higher blue-collar wages, political analysts see openings for the Trump campaign to appeal to Sanders primary voters.

Some 12% of Sanders supporters during the 2016 Democratic primary crossed party lines and voted for Trump in the general election, according to analysis by professor Brian Schaffner at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Schaffner also found that in the vital swing states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan, the number of 2016 Sanders-Trump voters was higher than the president’s margin of victory.

For his part, Biden is now likely contemplating who his running mate will be, with legal analyst Andrew Napolitano telling Fox Nation host Jimmy Failla that Biden might select former Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) to appeal to disaffected Republicans and moderates. 

After Biden’s unexpected surge from the back of the pack to a commanding lead, the president and key Trump campaign surrogates have implied that the Democratic Party is treating Sanders unfairly. For example, the president’s son Donald Trump, Jr. posted on social media a satirical meme derived from a video clip from the comedy show “Family Guy” depicting Sanders as a hunter drawing a bead on a deer labeled "Biden" and being fallen upon for his pains by club-wielding deer representing a vengeful Democratic establishment.

“They are not traditional, dyed-in-the wool Democrats, and therefore if the Trump people can make them mad at the Democratic Party, then they’re not liable to come out and vote, or they’re liable to come out and vote for the other guy,” Fran Coombs, managing editor at Rasmussen Reports, told Just The News. 

“Bernie complained all along that he was getting the shaft from the establishment, much like the establishment tried to do to Trump,” said Coombs. “Whether Bernie would have gotten the [2016] nomination, who knows? But there’s a pretty compelling case that the Clinton campaign pulled strings to make sure that Hillary won. I think it’s smart for Trump and the Republicans to bring that up and pound on it.”

Coombs said Trump’s support for U.S. troop withdrawals in the Middle East has potential appeal to possible Sanders crossovers.

“If you go back and look at Bush taking us into the Iraq War, the right and the left, the Pat Buchanan conservatives, the ‘paleo-conservatives,’ were dead set against the invasion,” Coombs said. “‘We're a lousy empire, we shouldn’t go in,’ and they were in complete agreement with the ‘Mother Jones’ [magazine] crowd on the left. There are things that Trump does that they agree with, unquestionably. Whether they can overcome ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’ and vote for the guy, that’s another story.”

In a last-ditch stand for Michigan’s 2020 primary, Sanders' campaign ran an advertisement featuring a union auto worker praising Sanders’ record of opposing U.S. trade deals. Its central message echoes Trump’s criticism of past trade deals negotiated under past administrations. 

Another Sanders campaign ad hit Biden for the former vice president’s record on Social Security, with Sanders promising not to cut the program for seniors — yet another central plank of Trump’s message, one that resonated with senior voters who handily supported Trump in the 2016 general election.

“The campaign routinely finds that about a quarter of those who register to attend Trump rallies are Democrats, and around 10%-15% percent did not vote in 2016,” Kayleigh McEnany, national press secretary for Trump’s re-election campaign, recently wrote in an oped for The Hill. “For example, in Nevada — the most recent blue state where the Trump campaign held a rally — 27% of rally registrants were black or Latino, and 32% of registrants overall did not vote in 2016.”

While Sanders has not embraced the president’s calls for stricter immigration control, the Democratic Party’s strong history with blue-collar workers has to some degree relied on labor unions’ opposition to illegal immigrant labor (including, for example, famed labor organizer Cesar Chavez). Lower-educated workers, whose votes will be crucial in Rust Belt swing states, have seen improved wages under the Trump administration. According to the White House Council of Economic Advisers, the unemployment rate for those without a high school degree has fallen at a faster rate than the rate for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, and the unemployment rate for Americans without a high school degree has fallen to the lowest rate on record.

Self-identified Sanders volunteer Charles De Bord tweeted to his nearly 27,000 followers with an attack on Biden for “supporting some of the worst criminal justice legislation in history.” Trump has also attacked Biden for the same issue — supporting the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. The Trump administration has also presided over landmark criminal justice reforms passed by Congress with bipartisan support. 

“Trump is a third party president, Trump is not a traditional Republican president,” Coombs said. “Those are anathema to the Chamber of Commerce Republican, the Jeb Bush crowd.”