Taking stock of a weird race for president

 
 
Posted12/6/2015 1:00 AM

A Presidential election year without an incumbent running for a second term often produces unusual and even strange politics, but the upcoming 2016 campaign may top the list for "weirdness."

The leading Republican contender, Donald Trump, is having the time of his life. He is once again the master of a reality show -- this time called "Running for President." He has made political correctness an oxymoron. Trump says what he thinks -- talks in half sentences and uses language that was unthinkable before this campaign season. And all the while he exudes more charisma and charm than the myriad of his rivals put together.

 

Unbelievably, what Trump says is basically less important than how he says it and it is no longer debatable that he has captured the hearts of a great portion of the GOP primary electorate -- and perhaps more.

Trump's current main nomination foe is Dr. Ben Carson who at times sounds like actor Peter Sellers in the movie "Being There." Carson has no definable political philosophy or experience. Instead, he is running as an accomplished doctor and a devout religious man.

Against this twosome, the other GOP candidates who have governmental and political influence are unable to engage these front-runners in any meaningful policy debate. Remarkably, the four most dangerous words for these traditional candidates are "look at my record" -- a phrase that creates almost no reaction from the nomination leaders, the media or the voters.

Conventional wisdom (quickly becoming another oxymoron) suggests that sooner or later polls will show major Trump and Carson percentage slippage -- the question is when?

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Perhaps given the recent horrific events in Paris and elsewhere -- there may be some GOP voter rethinking on the leading pair -- especially Carson. The good doctor's vapid responses to foreign policy questions is putting real pressure on him to show some international depth and moxie. Not Trump. This businessman is the "beat goes on" candidate as he uses high school profanity in describing what he would do to ISIS if he were president. Crude as his comments may sound, they undoubtedly have captured the feelings of many voters -- even those who are not out and out "Trumpites."

As for the Democrats, they are having a "slightly" more conventional fight for their party's presidential nomination. Leading the three-way battle is former First Lady, U.S. Senator (New York) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Nothing new can be said about her or her candidacy except for the fact she has been a national political "player" for almost a quarter of a century. Very few politicians last that long on the big stage and end up being elected President. Clinton's main focus is to show she is still relevant, open to new ideas and unlike in 2008, she is not taking the nomination for granted.

Clinton's main nomination opponent is Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders -- a socialist and proud of it -- though he now puts the word "democratic" before his political affiliation. For many Democrats -- especially its old left wing and young Millennials -- the above party label is irrelevant. Baby boomers reading this column should think back to the 1960s and early 1970s, when Democratic liberal party reformers fought to open up the nomination process and minimize party leaders' power and influence. They won the internal party fight! But it is interesting to remember that the leading party rebels back then -- former U.S. Sens. Eugene McCarthy, Minnesota) and George McGovern (South Dakota) -- were "non-adjective" Democrats. Sanders' task is to sell his socialism and his admiration for such historic U.S. socialists as Eugene Debs without it becoming an electable hurdle for him.

The other Democratic contender "still" standing is former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley. He is a very long longshot for the nomination, but he will stay in the race (as long as his campaign funds last) to remain a viable vice-presidential choice for either Clinton or Sanders.

Last point -- no Hollywood writer could concoct a screen play like the above -- especially given the lead roles and the performers trying out to be The STAR!

Paul Green is director of the Institute for Politics at Roosevelt University in Chicago and Schaumburg.

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