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Opinion: Ignore the Pundits, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders Are Game Changers

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The silly season for politics plays out each summer between Independence Day and Labor Day. It can be a thriving period for off-the-wall boomlets. Opinion poll results published during the silly season often serve better as fodder for jokes than as useful measurements of significant trends.

Thus, with the turning of the leaves inside the Beltway, why the hell are we still talking about Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders? Weren’t we told they were both populist gimmicks?

Shouldn’t they be fading away? After all, in a post-Citizens United landscape, the filthy rich political-action committees, those super PACs, are supposed to be controlling the game. So we can’t help but wonder:

How much longer can Trump stay ahead of the pack in the opinion polls before he’s hoisted by his own petard?

When will Sanders’ unlikely bandwagon be crushed by Hillary Clinton’s unstoppable juggernaut?

Of course, the know-it-all pundits are still saying the Sanders phenomenon is about to wither. But let’s not forget, at this point in 2007, Hillary Clinton was the presumed Democratic nominee. The smart money was not yet on Barack Obama.

This year some observers are saying Clinton’s steady loss of support during the silly season won’t matter in the long run. Maybe that will prove to be true, but what if Clinton inadvertently helps Sanders stay in the game? For instance, if former Secretary of State Clinton stumbles during her testimony before the Select Committee on Benghazi, scheduled for Oct. 22, that’s the sort of thing that could be a game changer.

What if one of Bill Clinton’s heretofore unnoticed mistakes comes out of the woodwork? Another Monica Lewinsky, maybe even a new Kathleen Willey, could fling a monkey wrench into the gears.

If anything like those imagined troubles appears in the weeks to come, it could bring Vice President Joe Biden off the bench and into the game. Biden would immediately peel off some support from Clinton and Sanders. Difficult to say how much from either of them. It would reshuffle the cards, but at this writing a late-breaking Biden run still seems unlikely.

However, that doesn’t mean another Democrat wouldn’t hear the call for a Clinton alternative. Although Jim Webb’s campaign seems to be going nowhere, if an opening occurs then some Virginians might wish that Sen. Tim Kaine would consider tossing his hat into the ring.

Openings? One of the factors that has allowed Sanders to pick up steam is that when Clinton amps up her delivery during a speech, to drive a point home, sometimes it sounds like she’s picked over and practiced her spiel so much she comes off as disconnected from the meaning of the sentences. Cold. That, while Sanders’ natural gruffness has looked at times like charisma.

Among his growing legions of supporters, authenticity has been playing as Sanders’ strong suit. It advances his cause that on his way to the U.S. Senate he served terms as a mayor and a congressman. Given chances to re-elect Sanders to all three of those offices, the good voters in Vermont have done so each time.

It buffs Sanders’ image when Cornel West says that if the election were left up to voters 25 years old and younger, then Bernie would win it. If West is right, it makes Sanders look less like a fluke and more like the leader of a movement.

To feed that movement concept, in Atlanta on Sept. 11, the professorial Sanders said, “The greed of the billionaire class is destroying this country and whether they like it, or not, we are going to stop that greed.”

Likewise, at least in some respects, Citizen Trump probably isn’t a fluke, either. He currently represents the basic thinking of a significant number of conservatives. They love Trump’s brand of belligerence, especially when it comes to his remarks about immigration. The xenophobia coalescing in the USA today is a signal that wall-building on the border is going to become a bigger issue.

Look at what’s happening in Europe, where the escalating migrant-refugee crisis is bound to spawn plenty of mean-spirited reactions across the pond. Yet today, with modern communications, millions of people trapped in desperate situations know how hopeless their futures are. They also know how well off some people are. There’s no putting that genie of awareness back in the bottle.

Rather than terrorism, how to cope with rising tides of refugees is likely to be next year’s biggest political issue, at least in wealthy countries. Rather than a fluke, Trump may be the tip of a spear — a spear of paranoid and unapologetic bashers of “the other.”

Rather than oppose him, conservative politicians in America soon may be falling over one another seeking to trump Trump by being more extreme. That could facilitate a political picture in 2016 that will mostly lack a middle ground. Politicians who plan to follow tradition by catering to the passionless middle of the road — such as Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush — may just find it to be virtually an empty landscape.

In a no-holds-barred Sanders vs. Trump presidential contest in 2016, there would be no middle ground. It wouldn’t be boring. Pundits would see a gaping hole where moderation used to be. Historians may characterize it as an election year that had a doughnutlike electorate — adorned with sprinkles of silly seasoning and a hole in the middle. S

F.T. Rea is an artist and writer who lives in the Fan District.



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