The Socialist vs. The Tycoon. Mr. Green Jeans vs. The Celebrity Insulter. The Radical vs. The Extremist.
Is it possible that we’re headed for the most bizarre, the most distressing, the most unthinkable presidential race in history?
A Donald Trump vs. Bernie Sanders contest in November of 2016 is no longer the stuff of nightmares and late-night talk show hosts’ monologue jokes.
It is the year in the western world of the “un-politician.” The establishment, or the elites, or whatever you want to call them have just about exhausted whatever influence and power they wielded over ordinary citizens due to a nauseating combination of incompetence, cronyism, and corruption. Alex Tsipras in Greece, Pablo Iglesias in Spain, Jeremy Corbyn in Great Britain, and Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in America — these men are connected by their outsiderness, their disconnect from the power structures that have failed the masses so spectacularly.
Trump tops his nearest Republican rival, Dr. Ben Carson — another outsider — by 28 points in New Hampshire, 15 points in South Carolina, and 4 points in Iowa. Sanders is beating Clinton by a whopping 22 points in New Hampshire, 10 points in Iowa, and is losing to Clinton is South Carolina by 23.
Issues do not appear to be a driving factor in Trump’s success. Rather, it is anger at Republicans in Congress, and at President Obama.
Electability is less of a priority, perhaps reflecting just how far off the general election contest still is.
But that also looks like a continued backlash against the political process itself: significant numbers of these Republican voters express anger toward Washington.
That anger isn’t entirely rooted in impatience with gridlock, though. There’s frustration among many conservatives – particularly in Iowa and South Carolina – that the GOP-controlled congress has compromised too much with the Obama administration in recent years: 81 percent in Iowa and 72 percent of South Carolina voters think the Republicans in Congress have compromised “too much” with President Barack Obama. New Hampshire Republican voters are less inclined to say that, although a majority – 59 percent — still do. Twenty-one percent of New Hampshire voters say Congressional Republicans have compromised with the President about the right amount, and another one in five says there has been too little compromise – a sentiment that fewer share in Iowa and South Carolina.
Previous polling has shown increasing concern among Republican voters about inequality in the U.S. economy and the fate of the middle class, and some of Donald Trump’s ideas for taxes on hedge fund investors may have sought to tap into that. Voters in all three states were asked about the general idea of raising taxes on Wall Street firms and it drew mixed reviews, with many unsure how they felt. Among those with an opinion, voters in Iowa and South Carolina are more apt to oppose that idea rather than favor it. But in New Hampshire it’s the reverse – there, more voters favor raising taxes on Wall Street than oppose doing so.
An electoral scenario born in the imagination of a Stephen King-like horror writer may materialize before our eyes. Whoever wins, America loses.