It’s tough to imagine a scenario in which both U.S. Senators Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are nominated by their respective parties in the 2016 presidential race. But in a hypothetical world where Sanders and Paul are both nominated, there would be significant overlap in their supporters, just as there is with their platforms.
Already in New Hampshire, where unaffiliated and independent voters can vote in either primary, Sanders and Paul are targeting similar supporters. Ron Paul won 28% of voters who claimed to be fiscally liberal in the 2012 New Hampshire primary, and also capitalized greatly on support from independents, which is Sanders’ bread and butter.
Many media outlets have referred to Sanders as the “Ron Paul of 2016,” not just for his radical beliefs, but for his ability to raise tremendous amounts of money through grassroots campaigning, essentially overnight, and for his willingness to stick out from the political mainstream.
Instead of relying on the traditional partisan base of their respective parties, Sanders and Paul hope to appeal to disaffected voters who are willing to cross party lines to vote for someone who is willing to stick up for the average American voter, even if they do not share all of the same views. Both have come out of nowhere to receive substantially more support than anyone could have predicted, despite occupying the fringe edges of their respective parties.
As I said in January, whoever wins the presidency is going to need serious support from Millennials. Young people are generally more willing to support candidates who depart from the traditional views of the parties. So who would get the Millennial vote? Paul or Sanders?
Although the candidates’ economic platforms are virtually antithetical -- Sanders supports universal Medicaid and expanded Social Security, whereas Paul believes in small government and a simplified tax code -- many of their policies are almost identical.Paul and Sanders have similar views on ISIS, which will surely be a central issue in 2016; both believe that an international coalition must be formed to take on the radical Islamic terrorist organization. Paul has specifically expressed the need for Middle Eastern countries to unite on this issue as a means of both forming solidarity and vanquishing a common enemy.
They are also both wary of free trade agreements and opposed giving President Obama fast-track authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.
Both candidates have used rhetoric to express their dissatisfaction with economic inequality and the current political vanguard’s ineffectiveness in representing the interests of the average American voter -- two issues that will undoubtedly be integral to the 2016 election.
As a veteran of the 1960s radical left movement, Sanders is a champion of economic inequality and has been talking about it since long before it became part of the mainstream political vernacular. He would likely beat Paul, and almost anyone else on the issue.
Sanders and Paul are both supporters of net neutrality and stood firmly opposed to the Patriot Act -- two issues that are very important to tech-oriented young voters. Paul’s 11-hour filibuster in protest of the Patriot Act’s renewal, and the ensuing media blitz, which sprung him ahead in the polls, will surely give him the edge with Millennials on government surveillance issues.
Paul was one of only two Republican senators not to vote for the 2016 GOP budget, which gives him a populist appeal to centrists and economically right-leaning Democrats who could see his willingness to stand up to his own party as brave and inspiring. Sanders has a similar lone-wolf conviction as the longest serving independent senator in U.S history.
Aside from Elizabeth Warren, Sanders has been the most outspoken U.S. senator when it comes to student loan reform, which is naturally one of the most important issues to young Americans. Paul has done very little. Sanders’ stance on student loans will surely resonate with young people.
Sanders has also been a champion of the environment while Paul denies climate change. Millennials are the most outspoken generation when it comes to the environment. Advantage: Sanders.
But social issues are what give Sanders the overall (hypothetical) win with Millennials, who are the most liberal generation ever.
While Paul now says that same-sex marriage should be decided on the state level, he used to oppose it completely -- 73% of Millennials support same-sex marriage. Surely it will be less of an issue in the 2016 election now that it is legal, but potential socially-liberal crossover voters will have a hard time forgiving Paul for some of the things he has said about same-sex marriage, such as:
"If we have no laws on this people take it to one extension further. Does it have to be humans?...I see the thousands-of-year tradition of the nucleus of the family unit. I also see that economically, if you just look without any kind of moral periscope and you say, what is it that is the leading cause of poverty in our country? It's having kids without marriage. The stability of the marriage unit is enormous and we should not just say oh we're punting on it, marriage can be anything." - U.S. Senator Rand Paul
Sanders has firmly supported same-sex marriage and women’s rights for the entirety of his career. His home state, Vermont, was a pioneer in legalizing same-sex civil unions in 2000, and Sanders voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 while serving in the U.S. House -- long before Democrats were even willing to stand up for LGBT rights.
Realistically, neither Sanders nor Paul has a great chance of being nominated; that’s not a surprise to anyone. And even if Sanders -- who probably has a better shot of taking down Clinton than Paul does of emerging victorious from the ever-growing pool of Republican contenders -- receives the Democratic nomination, he will likely get trounced by the Republican nominee given Americans’ dissatisfaction with the Obama presidency, the sheer terror of ISIS, and the growing threat of a global economic collapse.
Sanders began his campaign on a very radical idea: telling the truth. Unfortunately, while Bernie’s authenticity is highly notable, his refusal to play the political game could destroy his ability to appeal to centrist Democrats and Republicans in the general election. Even if he were to break free from his own fringe, left-wing views in the general, Sanders would only make himself out to be insincere after talking so much about honesty and truth.
The last time a far left-wing candidate ran for president was in 1972 when George McGovern successfully carried Massachusetts and the District of Columbia -- 17 electoral votes versus Richard Nixon’s 538; it was the greatest blowout in presidential electoral history.