The "silly season" for politics plays out each summer between Independence Day and Labor Day. It can be a period of thriving 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 into the mists? After all, in a post-Citizens United landscape, the filthy rich Super PACS are supposed to be controlling the game. So we can't help but wonder about two things:
- 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. Clinton has spit out a lead before.
Some observers are saying Clinton's steady loss of support over the summer won't matter in the long run. Maybe so, but what if Clinton inadvertently helps Sanders stay in the game? For instance, if former-Sec. of State Clinton stumbles during her testimony before the Select Committee on Benghazi, scheduled for October 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 could fling a monkey wrench into the gears of that aforementioned juggernaut.
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. Hard to say how much from either of them. At this writing Biden is still playing it coy.
However, that doesn't mean yet another Democrat won't hear the call for a Clinton-alternative if it gets loud enough. Although Jim Webb's campaign seems to be going nowhere, if an opening occurs some Virginians might wish 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. While Sanders' natural gruffness has looked at times like charisma, Clinton has too often looked uncomfortable.
Among his growing legions of supporters, authenticity has been playing as Sanders' strong suit. It advances his cause to point out that on his way to the U.S. Senate he served multiple terms as a mayor and a congressman. Furthermore, it buffs Sanders' image when Dr. Cornel West says that if the election were left up to voters 25-and-under, Bernie would win it.
In that light Sanders looks less like a fluke and more like the leader of a new 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 is speaking for the basic thinking of many of today's conservatives, who 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 only 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 exactly how hopeless their futures are. For young families 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. Rather than a silly season fluke, Trump may be the tip of a spear in America -- a spear of paranoid and unapologetic bashers of "the other." As much as anything else, this trend toward Trump-ism within the Republican Party may have goosed Speaker of the House John Boehner's into his sudden resignation.
Instead of opposing him, conservative politicians in America may soon be falling over one another seeking to trump Trump, by being more extreme. Politicians still planning to follow election year tradition, by changing their tunes to cater to the middle of the road -- such as Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush -- may just find it to be virtually an empty landscape.
With a no-holds-barred Sanders vs. Trump presidential contest it surely wouldn't be boring. Pundits might see a gaping hole where independent thinking and moderation used to be. Instead of politics of the melting pot, 2016 could be a year for politics of the centrifuge. How far Bernie's bandwagon might go in such a high-contrast milieu is anybody's guess.
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