The candidates sparring in last night’s Democratic debate were relatively tame: While Lincoln Chafee started things off with a diss at Hillary Clinton, touting he’s had “no scandals” during his 30-year career, that was about as below the belt as things got. Many of the candidates — Jim Webb in particular — looked uncomfortable or scripted when responding to the CNN team’s questions. Most disappointingly, Clinton failed to take a position on almost every topic thrown her way — her response to Anderson Cooper’s questions about her Patriot Act vote was particularly deflective.
The one stand-out was Bernie Sanders. While the Vermont senator by no means gave a flawless debate performance (the audience chuckled when he reiterated that Vladimir Putin “will regret” what he’s doing in Ukraine, Crimea, and Syria), he was the only candidate who took a stand without equivocating. When asked about Edward Snowden, he simply said that while Snowden did break the law, he “played a very important role in educating the American public.” He blatantly called out backward drug laws that put nonviolent criminals in prison while Wall Street’s worst offenders get immunity. He even went so far as to say “Congress doesn’t regulate Wall Street. Wall Street regulates Congress.”
He made a point of making his point, and the internet took notice: Nearly every time he spoke, there were spikes in Google searches about him. And his I-don’t-care-if-you-like-me attitude is reminiscent of another presidential candidate — Donald Trump.
Symbolically, Sanders’ working and middle-class promoting platform seems very Brooklyn while Trump’s billionaire “because I said so” campaign attitude is very Manhattan.
There is no need to get into the absurd, offensive, and even inaccurate things Trump has said on the campaign trail, but it can be said that his popularity is because of (not in spite of) his acerbic attitude. He live tweeted the debate and, among other jabs, he declared, “Sorry, there is no STAR on stage tonight!” He may be rude, but he gained 70,000 new followers during the course of the evening. And Sanders, with his take-no-prisoners progressivism, stands to make a surge in campaign funds after last night for the same cantankerous appeal; already, his campaign has reached $41 million from $10 to $20 donations.
So why the momentum for a sassy Manhattan billionaire and the upsurge in popularity for a no-nonsense Brooklynite? Trump’s and Sanders’ policies are like oil and water, but they do have one thing in common — they’re both New Yorkers. And New Yorkers are known for putting themselves out there. Not only that, but also they have a more direct, conversational style than most Americans. As Michael Newman, a linguistic professor at Queens College, points out, “A stump speech is, it seems, more palatable in a New York accent.”
If the 2016 race is between New Yorkers Sanders and Trump, their Brooklyn and Manhattan roots, respectively, would be emblematic of American social and economic dynamics. Symbolically, Sanders’ working and middle-class promoting platform seems very Brooklyn while Trump’s billionaire “because I said so” campaign attitude is very Manhattan.
LAS VEGAS, NV – OCTOBER 13: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) takes part in a presidential debate sponsored by CNN and Facebook at Wynn Las Vegas on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five Democratic presidential candidates are participating in the party’s first presidential debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Daphne Muller is a New York City-based writer who has written for Salon, Ms. Magazine, The Huffington Post, and reviewed books for ELLE and Publishers Weekly. Most recently, she completed a novel and screenplay. You can follow her on Instagram @daphonay and on Twitter @DaphneEMuller.