The news is full of Donald Trump and his lead in the crowded Republican field. Off to the side a bit, Sen Bernie Sanders is drawing huge crowds and capturing the imaginations of many supporters – and a few polls, too. With more than a year to go the Presidential election is going wildly off script as insurgent candidates are leading the insider choices, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.
Will this keep up for the next year or more?
A smart person would say that nothing is predictable as the electorate is obviously very volatile right now. Good thing I’m not smart. Despite the teevee noise and the large crowds it is very early and what we might call “mainstream” voters – people with jobs, families, et cetera – are not engaged yet. They will probably put a stop to the circuses and at least change the tone before it’s all over. But that doesn’t mean the election will quite go back on script.
The problem with Trump is easy to explain. He has his own direct conduit to a tremendous amount of teevee time and does not rely on the conservative outlets like Fox to promote him. He appears to have been able to take on Fox and beat them, in fact, only gaining in popularity from his dust-up with Megyn Kelly. A truce has been declared that apparently leaves Trump untouchable.
What will it take to dump Trump? The answer is right in front of everyone all along. He is ahead of the pack with 24% or so of the Republican vote – which is to say 24% of about a third of all voters or 8% total. It’s reasonable to assume that everyone knows who he is, so as soon as the field narrows someone will be able to poll higher than him.
There are signs that this math may not work in Iowa, but momentum in a campaign is a real thing. Give it time to sink in.
This is all confirmed by a poll by the Washington Post which shows that Trump actually plays a lot worse among Independents than Republicans. His total support across the board is about 12% at this time, and an astonishing 61% of the nation says they will never vote for him. Changing that figure is going to be difficult and it will involve a big change in Trump’s schtick.
The same poll, interestingly, found about 40% would never vote for Clinton and about 40% would never vote for Bush. The election will be decided by the middle 20%, as nearly all are these days, regardless of what we do this summer.
I’m sure we haven’t heard from them yet.
Bernie Sanders is a lot more problematic on the Democratic side. His supporters are never going to be wowed by Clinton because she represents the exact opposite of change to them. While she probably has the most impressive resume of anyone who has run for President in a long time, this is a year when a resume is a liability.
But for all the noise and the large crowds “feeling the Bern”, he will probably also burn out over the long haul. Sanders did successfully navigate a big setback from “Black Lives Matter” protesters who shut down an event, but later made peace. That was skilled on his part, but the progressive left demands a level of ideological purity that cannot be maintained. In order to keep his supporters going Sanders, like Trump, has to keep the rhetoric hot. He can’t move to the middle until he has cemented their support and turned them into the hard-core workers that an insurgent needs – especially one that eschews big money.
Many people are comparing these insurgencies to Governor Jesse Ventura in 1998. But the comparisons need to look at the calendar. Ventura didn’t come on strong until August 1998, three months before the election. His big surge came from the State Fair at the end of that month and his no-BS performance in the debates. Where Ventura is famous for the crazy things that come out of his mouth, he was actually a very sharp politician with a great common touch – and the second thing he said was usually quite brilliant.
You cannot compare anything that’s happening now with Ventura because the extra year and lack of coherent debates on actual policy isn’t happening yet.
So how will this play out? We have to expect that the big players, Clinton and Bush, are taking note. They know this year will remain volatile. They have about six months to put their organizations in place and get the attention of the mainstream voters.
Once they do, the real fight will begin. Only then, too.