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Robert Reich: Trump is not a passing fad

Donald Trump is not going away, says noted political economist and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich.

Reich sat down with Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer for an interview before a live audience at LiveTalksLA and laid out his argument for why so-called outsider candidates like Donald Trump on the Republican side and Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side are having a moment.

“Remember the context,” said Reich, who served in the cabinet of his former Yale Law School Classmate, Bill Clinton. “Today, we have wider inequality than we’ve had by some measures since the 1890s, by other measures since the 1920s. We have more of not only the income going to the top, but also the wealth at the top.”

That, according to Reich, is the context that some political analysts are missing when it comes to Trump and Sanders and their sudden, surging popularity among the American people.

“The thing that is always difficult for political analysts and others to gauge is – when I come back to this term, ‘populist upsurge’ – the tipping point happens very quickly,” he said. “Most political analysts are always looking in the rear view mirror; they’re not actually looking at how the current political economy affects people’s opinions, their politics, their economic status and so forth.”

In his new book, “Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few,” Reich makes an impassioned argument that there has been a fundamental shift in American politics. In the book, he somewhat presciently predicted that the future of American politics will not be about Republican versus Democrat, but rather establishment versus anti-establishment.

Watch more of Reich on the Trump-Sanders surge:

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump “are populist and they really do talk about overthrowing – not with these words – the establishment political order.”

Reich elicited laughter from the live audience when he wondered aloud about the possibility of the Presidential horse race coming down to Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, but he also pointed out that the deniers, so far, have been wrong about the staying power of these two candidates.

“Donald Trump – I think despite the fact the press keeps on saying he’s done, this is just a passing fad – he’s not a passing fad,” he said. “I’m beginning to hear columnists and pundits say maybe the Republicans need to accept the fact that he’s going to be their nominee.”

Trump still leads in national polls and trails only Ben Carson in Iowa. The New York real estate developer and reality TV star might have a better shot than Sanders, according to Reich, but even a Sanders candidacy is not out of the question.

Reich acknowledges that based on current polling, it’s unlikely that Bernie Sanders becomes the Democratic nominee. But he also points out that based on the measure of enthusiasm, which is what ultimately drives voters to the polls, Sanders could still have a chance.

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“If you measure by enthusiasm - hard to measure - but 20,000; 30,000; 40,000 people showing up for Bernie Sanders rallies, it may be that Bernie Sanders becomes the Democratic nominee.”

Reich says that while Trump and Sanders are clearly very different, they bear one significant thing in common. Each one has unleashed a populist movement that could gain enough momentum to create what he calls a countervailing power forceful enough to overthrow the current political establishment.

“I can’t say that in 2016, either one of these individuals will become President,” said Reich. “But the forces that have been unleashed are unmistakable and bear a very strong resemblance to what we’ve seen in other periods historically before you had enough countervailing power to actually have political change.”

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