Presidential candidates from both major parties may be trying to ignore or minimize Bernie Sanders, but they cannot disregard the fact that his populist message has struck a nerve among voters. As a result, even Republicans are starting to spout some faux-populist ideas.

The GOP front-runner Donald Trump is leading the pact echoing some of Bernie’s points. Trump is calling for a special tax on companies that outsource labor to overseas factories, and  has stated he will not cut Social Security. In regard to the low tax rates that hedge fund managers pay, Trump has stated:

The hedge fund guys are getting away with murder. They’re making a tremendous amount of money. They have to pay taxes. I want to lower the rates for the middle class. The middle class is the one, they’re getting absolutely destroyed. This country doesn’t have—won’t have a middle class very soon.

Before Trump, GOP candidates were scared to death to make statements such as the above. They couldn’t because they were threatened with losing their campaign funding. Trump doesn’t care. Just as he is willing to openly criticize immigrants, women, blacks, and everyone else; he also is willing to state his opinion on issues that seem contrary to GOP values. The surprise, however, is that much of the GOP base is agreeing with him, and now the other GOP candidates are beginning to change their song.

They aren’t going as far as Trump in calling for new and increased taxes on the wealthy and corporations. However, even buffoons like Christie and Huckabee are now criticizing big Wall Street banking institutions and the “1%” investor class whose money works for them – and thus, pay far lower taxes than those who must work for their money. Christie acknowledges that “Middle-class wages are stagnant for 15 years, and in fact they’re behind the rate of inflation.” Of course, he blames Obama: “He has played to the investor class and to make rich people richer.”  Just before announcing his candidacy, Jeb Bush called for reigning in and regulating the big banks: “We have more banks with more concentrated assets in the United States, and the systematic risk is perhaps greater now than it was when [Dodd-Frank] was signed.”


Huckabee won’t call for the break-up of banks grown “too big to fail,” but believing that “markets” should determine their fate, stated: “If the boards of those banks know they are not going to be bailed out, and if they continue reckless policies that put them in a position of vulnerability, they are on their own.”

Even Rand Paul, quintessential mindless disciple of Ayn Rand, has called for limiting the growth of big banks. He supports a new version of Glass-Steagall, which was repealed by the Clinton Administration – arguably leading to the financial collapse of 2008. Paul has also acknowledged that “Most of the loopholes in the tax code were designed by the rich and politically connected.”

The hard fact is that the overwhelming majority of American voters (Democrat, Republican and Independent) now see that the economic system is rigged in favor of the rich and powerful. Well over 80% agree that income inequality is a serious problem.

What are we to make of all this? Have Clinton and the GOP had their proverbial “Come to Jesus Moment?” Or are they simply opportunists who see voter reactions to Bernie Sanders’ message and his growing support, and are trying to capture some of his power by co-opting his message?

One thing is certain: as we predicted here at The Ring of Fire several months ago, Bernie Sanders’ candidacy has proven to be a game-changer. He has definitely influenced the national conversation in this election cycle. The question now is: will voters fall for the faux-populism now embraced by the so-called “mainstream candidates” who for years and even decades did little to nothing for the middle class? Or will they go with the real leader who has a proven track record when it comes to representing the real interests of the People?

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.