The Trump-Bernie alliance that could have been

Trump was mostly trolling, trying to drive a wedge between Sanders voters and Clinton, the Democratic nominee. But Trumpist populism was always pretty much a pose — early in his term, he bullied some manufacturers into announcing they would keep their jobs in America, it is true. But those efforts didn’t always pay off as promised, and in any case the president found populism more useful as a political tool, a way to generate the rage of his supporters and rail against the elites who despised him, rather than the lodestar for an actual governing agenda. His most significant legislative accomplishment is the passage of a giant tax cut whose benefits mostly went to the rich and big corporations — and mostly failed to create good new jobs, as Trump and his allies had promised.

Sanders, meanwhile, returned to the Senate (and the presidential campaign trail) and started working for “Medicare for all.” And by the time 2020 rolled around, Trump — rhetorically at least — no longer found Sanders’ message “interesting.” Instead, he spent his campaign railing somewhat ironically against socialism, and trying unsuccessfully to pin Sanders’ views on decidedly centrist Joe Biden. These days, the two men could hardly be further apart in their politics and rhetoric.

The fight over $2,000 payments, though, is a glimpse of what was possible if Trump had had a genuine interest in or ability to advance populist legislation, instead of using populism as a button to push in order to get a reaction. He might have found common ground with Sanders on issues here and there to advance the interests of the working class.