Outsider status turns against Trump, Sanders

Outsider status turns against Trump, Sanders
© Getty Images

Being political outsiders is suddenly not good news for Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House sued over lack of sign language interpreters at coronavirus briefings Wife blames Trump, lack of masks for husband's coronavirus death in obit: 'May Karma find you all' Trump authorizes reduced funding for National Guard coronavirus response through 2020 MORE and Bernie SandersBernie SandersCuba spells trouble for Bass's VP hopes Trump Spanish-language ad equates progressives, socialists Biden's tax plan may not add up MORE.

Trump and Sanders have dominated the political cycle with unconventional presidential campaigns that have shaken up both parties.


Trump is the GOP front-runner and has a large delegate lead over Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOn The Trail: The first signs of a post-Trump GOP Trump tests GOP loyalty with election tweet and stimulus strategy Republicans dismiss Trump proposal to delay election MORE (R-Texas), while Sanders has won eight of the last nine Democratic contests.

Yet a little more than three months before the political conventions begin, both are facing serious challenges.

Cruz has outmaneuvered Trump for delegates in Louisiana and Colorado and threatens to take the GOP nomination away from his rival at the convention in Cleveland.

Despite his victories, Sanders lags far behind Democratic front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump vows challenge to Nevada bill expanding mail-in voting Biden should pick the best person for the job — not the best woman Juan Williams: The Trump Show grows tired MORE and has not been able to put a dent in her lead among superdelegates — the party officials who have a vote in choosing the Democratic nominee.

To have any chance of winning the nominations, Trump and Clinton need to develop an inside game.

“There’s a reason why you don’t go total outsider — because at the end of the day, it’s the establishment who writes the rules,” said GOP strategist Ford O'Connell, who worked on Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainChuck Todd's 'MTP Daily' moves time slots, Nicolle Wallace expands to two hours Senate GOP divided over whether they'd fill Supreme Court vacancy  Asian American voters could make a difference in 2020 MORE’s (Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign.

“This lust for outsider politics requires insiders,” he added.

That’s a tough game for both Trump and Sanders.

The Vermont senator isn’t even a member of the Democratic Party, though his staff includes longtime strategists with national campaign experience.

Trump might face an even bigger challenge. His lean campaign, until recently, hasn’t included many seasoned political professionals. Trump has also eschewed party loyalty for most of his career in favor of bipartisan donations and positions across the political spectrum.

Cruz has been winning the hand-to-hand fight for delegates. Over the weekend in Colorado, he swept all 34 delegates with a robust, well-organized strategy. The Texas senator personally spoke to the state convention delegates themselves.

Trump didn’t put his resources behind winning Colorado, baffling some observers.

“That’s one of the things that makes trying to figure out his campaign so challenging,” GOP strategist and former Republican National Committee aide Doug Heye told The Hill. “In theory, he has unlimited resources, but he’s been reluctant to use those resources.”

Trump has sought to use the Colorado results to his advantage, arguing that party insiders are working with Cruz to steal the nomination from his supporters.

“The people out there are going crazy, in the Denver area and Colorado itself, and they’re going absolutely crazy because they weren’t given a vote; this was given by politicians. It’s a crooked deal,” Trump said Monday on “Fox and Friends.”

The rhetoric has worked for Trump in the past by helping him surf a wave of discontent with the GOP establishment, which has been building for years. But at this point in the campaign, Trump may need more than rhetoric to close the deal on the nomination.

The Colorado situation was far from the first time that Trump has been felled by his own hand when it comes to wooing delegates.

While the Republican Party binds delegates to vote for certain candidates depending on state primary or caucus results on the party’s first ballot, states have different rules about how long those delegates must stay loyal in a contested convention.

In many cases, delegates are free to choose any candidate after the first ballot, making it more imperative that candidates lock up the individual loyalties of delegates.

With their eyes on those rules, Cruz has mounted successful efforts to win loyalties from a handful of delegates in states like Louisiana, Tennessee and South Carolina — all states Trump won.

Sanders isn’t in the same boat as Trump, who leads GOP candidates in votes.

Sanders instead has received fewer votes than Clinton and chose not to compete in the South, where she built her delegate lead.

Still, the use of superdelegates to choose the Democratic nominee gives Clinton a built-in advantage over Sanders. She has 469 superdelegates, according to The Associated Press, while Sanders has 31 in his corner.

“He can rail against the system all he wants, but unfortunately for him, he’s never participated in it,” Democratic strategist Jim Manley said of Sanders.

“If the [pledged] delegate totals would have been closer, he may be in a better position to try to persuade some superdelegates to switch over. But based on the totals now, there’s no reason to switch.”

Supporters of both Trump and Sanders have used the rules to cry foul. Trump himself retweeted a video of a supporter burning his GOP voter registration in a tweet that argued, “Great people [are] being disenfranchised by politicians.”

And Sanders supporters have launched petitions arguing that superdelegates should follow the results in their states — a move that would shrink Clinton’s gap but still leave her up by a considerable amount.

Strategists say the problems Trump and Sanders now face were predictable.

“People like Bernie Sanders, but he hasn’t been someone known to help to do party building, in the same way that while Donald Trump has been a donor and all sorts of things, he hasn’t been a Republican Party guy,” said Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons, who served on Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreWould Kamala Harris be disloyal if she were VP? Congressman John Lewis: A champion for civil rights and environmental justice Dancing with no rhythm: Republican candidates resemble Elaine on Seinfeld MORE’s 2000 presidential campaign. 

“It’s a challenge for both of them, and the challenge always has been that they have to show such overwhelming electoral strength with voters that the institutional players would come around.”