WASHINGTON, DC – Those having trouble making sense of the American presidential election campaign need not worry. It doesn’t make sense. The 2016 race is shaping up as the weirdest in modern times, owing not just to the number of candidates – currently 14, with two or three more expected to announce soon – but also to the unusual nature of many of them.
The usual question posed about presidential aspirants is: Why is he running? This year, the answer seems to be: Why not? As long as one is not too attached to one’s dignity, there is little to lose and a lot to be gained from running. A failed presidential campaign, even a disastrous one, can lead to higher speaking fees, richer book contracts, or a television gig. Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee both failed to win the Republican nomination, but secured seats on cable talk shows.
On the Democratic side, the question asked in political circles these days is not whether Hillary Clinton can win the nomination, but whether she can lose it. The answer is yes – in the sense that anything is possible. Nobody I know thinks she is likely to stumble so badly; still, the Clintons are known to be accident-prone, and they have been full of surprises – scandals and scandalettes – since they first appeared on the national scene a quarter-century ago. This is why many Democrats back her without enthusiasm.
Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist, inspires enthusiasm. Sanders is riding the leftist wave in Democratic politics, and while many of his proposals may not be able to stand up against hard questioning (how, for example, would he fund his plan to make college tuition free for everyone?), he has so far managed to avoid any serious challenge to them.