We’re a solid year, three months and change from 2016 Presidential election, and the campaign to replace President Obama is in full swing. It’s obviously way too early to make predictions. Today’s newspapers wrap tomorrow’s fish. But trends are emerging, candidates are just starting to separate themselves from the pack. And we’re probably learning more about the electorate than about the men and women vying for their votes.
Republicans first: here’s the latest polling data: CNN’s most recent has Jeb Bush as the frontrunner, at 19%. Guess who’s second. No, seriously, take a guess: I’ll wait. It’s Donald Trump, at 12%. The Donald. The guy whose campaign song is ‘We Shall Overcomb.’ The Bloviating Buffoon. Donald Trump. In second. And rising. Rapidly.
Look, the Republican race is going to be a roller-coaster, and it wouldn’t surprise me if all 57 candidates took turns at the top. But this is truly amazing news. I mean, seriously, did you see his campaign announcement speech? First of all, the size of the crowd was shockingly large. Was there really that much enthusiasm for Trump? Well, no. He paid people to show up. Then he gave this speech. Our country was falling apart, the unemployment rate is 21%, Mexicans are all rapists, so what we need is the most amazingly successful businesssman ever, me. Trump. It was truly something special.
His comments were offensive enough that NBC fired him from his reality show, The Apprentice. And that’s truly amazing. When people running for President announce their candidacies, the idea is to present themselves as positively as possible, to persuade people to vote for them. Trump’s announcement was so bizarre, it cost him the one gig that has made him a household name. Of course he’s a joke candidate, and of course he won’t win. But 12% of the Republican electorate, right now at least, support him. So, okay.
Hey, at least he is actually successful. The Republican field is littered with people who are most known for being bad at their jobs. The most unpopular governor in America, Bobby Jindal, and the second most unpopular, Chris Christie, are running. (Jindal’s campaign announcement consisted of a video he posted on-line, in which he talks to his utterly unenthused kids about his plans to run. Funny stuff). Former CEO Carly Fiorina is running; she’s mostly known for running Hewlett-Packard into the ground. The rest of the field seems to be one-term-and-out guys like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee. Rick Perry is running despite being under federal indictment, and Scott Walker is as hated as any governor in any state in the country, except possibly Maine’s Paul LePage, who is not running for President, thank heavens, but who is currently facing impeachment hearings.
Why is Jeb Bush leading? He’s a Bush. People have heard of him. He’s got a lot of money behind him. But he’s got tremendous baggage, which is already weighing him down. His brother was not a good President (bottom five, I’d say), and Jeb hasn’t been able to distance himself from W’s biggest folly, the invasion of Iraq. He is, at best, the meh candidate, the guy who gets the nomination because, well, we’ve heard of him, how bad could he be?
It’s the Democratic side that’s getting kind of interesting. Hillary Clinton has clearly made the bold decision to actually run for President as a Democrat. That is to say, she’s staking out policy positions to the left of the kind of centrist New Democrat stuff her husband stood for. She’s made some early gaffes, but she’s got money, an organization, and a resume. I like her; always have. I think she’s going to win, and I’ll think she’ll be a good President.
Here’s the case I can make for Hillary: she’s prepared. She’ll be effective from Day One. And that’s important. Because the issues candidates run on are rarely the issues they face in office. George W. Bush did not anticipate that the central moment of his Presidency would be when terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Centers buildings. Jimmy Carter did not expect, when he ran, that his Presidency would be defined by Iranian jihadists taking over the US embassy in Iran. The Presidency is about coping with the unexpected, not effectively shepherding orderly legislative initiatives.
But all the energy in this campaign, so far at least, has come from Bernie Sanders. That’s right; a 73-year old socialist from Vermont. But his campaign events are overpacked with wildly enthusiastic followers. He’s used social media brilliantly. His political persona is fascinating; he’s not remotely ingratiating. He seems impatient, unimpressed. He stands up and speaks; no jokes, no pausing for applause lines. He wants to get on with things. And that’s appealing. He’s the Occupy candidate, the anti-corporate class warrior. Everything about him screams authenticity and integrity. The political class doesn’t take him very seriously; the Beltway thinks he’s a loon. But so far, his campaign has been brilliant.
And I think his success, and Trump’s success, are emblematic of where the electorate is right now. I think people are afraid, and I think they’re angry. I think people believe that politics is broken, and that they’re getting screwed, and they want to lash out. So if conservatively inclined, they go for a bomb-throwing business mogul, a guy who promises to fix things. And for people of the liberal persuasion, they go for this tough old truth-teller, a guy who talks about income inequality and economic policies that favor the rich and unapologetically promises to raise taxes.
I think Trump’s campaign is going to fizzle; he’s just too egotistical. And I think the Republican electorate will flirt with every dancer on their card, before finally giving up, sighing in frustration, and giving their nod to the latest Bush. But the Democratic nomination is going to be, if anything, more volatile than that. I think Hillary is in for a tough fight with Bernie, and though I think she’s still the favorite, she’ll know she was in a scrap.
And what then? Who knows. Predicting anything this far out is a fool’s errand. But checking my crystal ball, I think the nominees are Clinton and Bush, and that Hillary will win 54-46. Now let’s see how accurately I can prophesy.