Against all conventional wisdom, he has become the GOP’s presumptive nominee for president.
But the only consistency in this wild political season has been its unpredictability, in both parties. This has been an election cycle far out of the bounds of political models and establishment control and certainly, conventional wisdom. Very different winds have been blowing in America since the early GOP campaigns launched last year and over a dozen candidates joined the crowded field by early 2016. Who would have thought back then that it would wind up like this.
That unforeseen force of nature has caught up American Democrats since Hillary Clinton began what was supposed to be an easy stride to the convention podium this summer to accept the Democratic nomination for president, only to be outshone in popularity by longtime Democratic Socialist Senate veteran Bernie Sanders. She may well be the inevitable candidate, but it’s May and she’s not there yet. That’s remarkable.
It has been a bruising, belligerent, demeaning, undignified and uninspiring battle to date. Conventional wisdom had Ohio and/or Florida as always pivotal in putting candidates over the top. This time, all the states played a key role, but it was Indiana that handed Donald Trump the decisive win that, suddenly, turned him into the inevitable GOP candidate for presidency. It also knocked Sen. Ted Cruz out of the race all of a sudden.
Here’s the New York Times early analysis, one of the few outlets swift to offer anything more than a placeholder paragraph or two until they could process what just happened. Essentially, it shows a matchup of two unpopular candidates, another remarkable reality in this year’s election. Donald Trump packed stadiums and arenas and picked up momentum on ‘the Trump Train’ as time went on, but for all those primary victories, he continually polled behind Clinton in a general election matchup. Until the night of the Indiana primary.
The Times story doesn’t report this, but one of the latest polls showed Trump about even in that faceoff. The bigger story is that polls and predictions haven’t meant much this year, as people at the grassroots defied them again and again. The Times article had to fill the analysis with something, so it resorted to conventional wisdom. Which makes no sense. People reacted. We have become a reactionary nation, visceral and impulsive and driven by emotion. How voting polls show one thing in people registering to vote for the first time or first time in a long time, longer lines at many polling places, reflecting engaged citizens, while popularity polls show the ‘unlikeability’ factor rather high for the now presumptive GOP and Democratic candidate, is beyond reason and virtually beyond precedent.
I recently heard former Texas Governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry on a news show, asked for his opinion on Trump. He said: “We have never had anyone on the political stage who is as talented at selling a brand as Donald Trump. Now selling a brand is different from managing a country, so we’ll see.”
We’ll see whether and how the tone, tenor, content and character change in this new stage of Election 2016. And we’ll be watching, and listening, closely.