Donald Trump Hopes for Boost From Bernie Sanders Supporters
Presumptive Republican nominee counting on Vermont senator’s backers to shift to him, but poll numbers indicate otherwise
Donald Trump, surveying the next phase of his Republican presidential campaign, is counting on a boost from an untapped well of disenchanted voters who hate the status quo, think the system is stacked against them and can’t stand Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.
That would be some supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“I’m hearing we’re going to get close to 40% of his supporters,” Mr. Trump said at a recent campaign rally in Albuquerque, N.M. “The system is rigged against Bernie, so he can’t win” in the Democratic presidential primary. “We’re going to get tremendous numbers from Bernie Sanders.”
But making that prediction come true would require an extraordinary amount of persuasion, if recent opinion polls and interviews with Sanders backers are any indication.
“That’s absurd,” said Frank Pringle, 32 years old, a law student in Richmond, Calif., at a Sanders rally. “He is living in a fantasy world.”
Frank Gamboa, 39, an Uber driver from Alameda, Calif., who supports Mr. Sanders, is struggling with his general-election options, but said, “I cannot in good conscience vote for Trump.”
In Wall Street Journal/NBC News polls over the first four months of 2016, just 6% of Sanders supporters felt positively about Mr. Trump, while 90% felt negatively. Faced with a Trump-Clinton choice in the general election, 10% of Sanders supporters said then they would vote for Mr. Trump, and 81% would vote for Mrs. Clinton.
But the latest Journal/NBC poll this month suggests that Mrs. Clinton could be losing ground; it found that 66% of Sanders supporters would vote for her against Mr. Trump, while 17% would vote for Mr. Trump. The other 17% of Sanders supporters said they would vote for neither candidate, another one, or weren’t sure.
If Mr. Trump wants to woo Sanders supporters, he will face the formidable obstacle of the Vermont senator’s own virulent opposition to Mr. Trump’s candidacy and calls for his backers to resist the temptation of Mr. Trump. Alan: Bernie will prevail in steering his supporters to Hillary. In 2008, over 60% of Hillary supporters said they wouldn't vote for Obama and in the end they all did. There is a huge (yuge?) difference between venting frustration with a pollster and pulling the lever for Trump.
Presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump says he's going to focus on 15 states to be competitive in the general election, including California, New York and others that Republicans usually concede. WSJ's Shelby Holliday runs through the obstacles Trump will have to overcome.
“Donald Trump represents a whole lot that I passionately hate,” Mr. Sanders said in an MSNBC interview this month. “If I’m not the candidate, I will do everything that I can to make sure that Donald Trump does not become president of the United States.”
Michael Briggs, a Sanders spokesman, concedes “there are some things in common. There is a lot of frustration with Washington and people are angry.” But he added: “It’s a matter of channeling that anger in a constructive way that has been a big part of the appeal for Sen. Sanders.”
The surprising rise of these two populist candidates has been a remarkable feature of the unpredictable 2016 campaign, inviting comparisons between their appeals to angry voters.
But the roots and goals of the Trump and Sanders phenomena are drastically different. Trump voters’ anger is closely linked to frustration with the Republican elites, and they tend to want government to dial back its role in social and economic problem solving. Sanders voters tend to think government should be more, not less, active in solving those problems.
“The little guy has been getting left out in the cold my entire life,” said Joe Marshall, 35, a Sanders supporter who works at the Joshua School for autistic children in Englewood, Colo. “I happen to have more faith in the government’s power to affect positive change in the world than a Donald Trump supporter would.”
Mr. Trump’s attitude toward Mr. Sanders has been a moving target. He has coined the derisive nickname “Crazy Bernie.” He jokingly agreed to debate Mr. Sanders—and then reneged on Friday. He sometimes argues that Mr. Sanders should run as an independent candidate. But more often than not, he seems to be wooing the senator’s voters and treats Mr. Sanders with a gentler touch than he does other rivals.
“I have to give him credit,” Mr. Trump said in Albuquerque, N.M. “Crazy Bernie is out there trying, and he’s trying hard. Hillary cannot even put Bernie away.”
The Trump message may fall on more receptive ears among Sanders supporters whose antipathy toward Mrs. Clinton runs especially deep. Jordan Honeycutt, 24, an unemployed laborer in Kannapolis, N.C., said he would reluctantly pull the lever for Mr. Trump if he is the only alternative to Mrs. Clinton.
“Anything but Clinton,” Mr. Honeycutt said. “There isn’t anything about Trump I like much, and I’m scared he will bankrupt the country as he did his businesses. But I would be on that bandwagon. I do believe if Trump becomes president, I do think you will see more jobs opening up. He is a businessman.”
Mr. Trump is counting the unhappiness with trade deals to reach cross party lines. “Bernie Sanders and I have one thing in common: trade,” Mr. Trump said in an interview. “He knows we are getting ripped off and so do I. The difference is I can make great trade deals. He wouldn’t know where to begin.”
Mr. Trump predicted that he would get “tremendous” support from millennials, the young voters who are a major bastion of Sanders voters. But the latest Journal/NBC News poll casts doubt on that prediction. Just 20% of voters aged 18 to 34 expressed positive feelings about Mr. Trump, while 71% felt unfavorably. In a head-to-head contest between Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton, he draws 32% of 18- to 34-year-olds, while she gets 55%.
Alan: There is a huge (yuge?) difference between venting frustration with a pollster and pulling the lever for Trump.
Mr. Sanders, who wasn’t available for an interview, has rejected any comparison with Mr. Trump, and his stump speech includes a resolute slap at the New York businessman. His supporters erupted into boos when a plane flew over a California rally with a banner inviting them to turn to Mr. Trump: “Bernie’s Done. Vote Trump.”
Mr. Trump will have a hard time winning over voters such as Mr. Gamboa, a Mexican-American who is so dedicated to the Sanders campaign that he stuck with an Uber-driving job so he would have the time and flexibility to work as a volunteer.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders attended a campaign event in Ventura, Calif., on Thursday. If he were to lose the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Mr. Sanders “will do everything that I can to make sure that Donald Trump does not become president of the United States,” he said in an interview earlier this month.PHOTO: TROY HARVEY/BLOOMBERG NEWS
He is unhappy enough with the status quo to be tempted to support Mr. Trump if it comes down to a Trump-Clinton face-off, but he is turned off by some of the provocative things Mr. Trump has said about immigration, and he worries about the Supreme Court in a Trump presidency.
“I’m battling with it,” Mr. Gamboa said. “If it weren’t for the Supreme Court, I probably would vote for Trump. The establishment needs to wake up.”
and Beth Reinhard contributed to this article.