COMMENTARY: An unpredictable ride through the 2016 campaign

Even the most seasoned, veteran political reporters can’t profess to understand what is going on in the 2016 presidential race. Most of us predicted Donald Trump would crash and burn long ago. He hasn’t. And apparently he won’t.

It doesn’t seem to matter what he says. His poll numbers go up. Now, it’s true that polling at this stage of the presidential race is notoriously inaccurate, especially national polling. We probably should begin to pay attention to polling in Iowa and New Hampshire. The Iowa caucuses are less than six weeks away. The New Hampshire primary is only a week later.

But even that is uncertain. Political polling has gotten less and less predictive of actual outcomes in recent times. For example, British polling had the recent elections there approximately a tie the week before. The Tories won in a landslide.

Polling in the Kentucky gubernatorial race last month had it about tied, with the Democratic attorney general leading the Republican businessman who had no political experience. The Republican not only won, he won by more than 9 percent.

Even political reporters on Fox News don’t understand how it is that Trump defies gravity, utters all kinds of outrageous statements, and his poll numbers still rise. Count this columnist, who covered his first state and national elections in 1968, as among the mystified.

Reid Beveridge

Reid Beveridge

Except perhaps not. That is partly because the conventional wisdom doesn’t apply anymore in today’s highly polarized electorate. Further, many of the so-called “mainstream reporters and columnists” think they are in the mainstream when they actually are left of center. You don’t find many of them, other than Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, who understand the growing unease in the electoral center and the rage on the political right.

That unease and rage are a reaction to President Obama’s stewardship of foreign policy, especially, and domestic affairs, to only slightly lesser extent. For example, the administration will tell you that Obamacare is working just fine. In fact, it is not. And so it goes.

However, the biggest reaction is to the rise of ISIS and the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. The president and his sycophants can’t seem to get the words “radical Islamic terrorist” out of their mouths. Further, we know that, a couple of years ago, all of Obama’s national-security advisers recommended substantial U.S. intervention in Syria, only to have Obama turn them down flat. The rise of ISIS is the major result.

We have always had cycles in American politics. One of the first occurred in 1800 just four years after George Washington left the presidency. Up until then, political parties had been pretty much a non-factor. However, in some major part due to President John Adams’ unwise promotion of the Alien and Sedition Acts, the political classes split, some, like Adams and Alexander Hamilton to become Federalists, and some, like Thomas Jefferson, to become Democratic-Republicans. These political swings have continued to one degree or another since.

So, a great deal of what we witness today stems from recent swings. Much of Barack Obama’s success in 2008 was a reaction to that large proportion of the American electorate who came to loathe George W. Bush because of the Iraq war. If you can reel you mind back eight years, you will remember that Obama pegged much of his campaign on ending that war (even though it was largely won by that time) and bringing our troops home, which he did.

What that same electorate either failed to recognize or refused to internalize was how thin Obama’s résumé was: A few years in the Illinois State Senate and two years in the U.S. Senate. What it was nearly impossible to know back then was that Obama was not just a man of his convictions. He was and is a man, if you will pardon the butchered cliché, whose mind is made up, so, don’t confuse him with the facts.

Enter “The Donald.” And also several other Republican presidential candidates, such as Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. And Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. And perhaps even former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. Unlike Obama, who viscerally opposes military conflict in any form, it would seem like they want to do something about ISIS and not just talk.

That may be Obama’s underlying problem. He rose politically by mastering the thespian skill of reading a speech off a TelePrompTer. Anyone who is even remotely a student of political rhetoric knows this, no matter what you think about what he says. For example, the other day, after he’d been in a meeting with his national-security advisers at the Pentagon for a couple of hours, he came out to the press room and read a speech that obviously had been written, at least in part, before the meeting.

So, could Trump actually be elected president of the United States, or would his nomination ensure the coronation of Hillary Clinton? Hard to say.

The real question for next year’s campaign is what report FBI director James Comey brings to the Department of Justice on Mrs. Clinton.

Editor’s Note: Reid K. Beveridge has covered politics in Texas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Delaware and Washington, D.C. He is now retired at Broadkill Beach.

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