As a veteran political operative involved in campaigns going back to 1976 I can say that each one is different but has similar characteristics. I also feel safe in saying that this year is probably more dissimilar from any campaign I have ever been associated with or witnessed over the past four decades. Like most other observers and pundits, I have written several times of Mr. Trump's imminent demise only to be abruptly slapped in the face by the reality of the contemporary exasperation, frustration and anger of an electorate that is as anti-establishment as any since the turmoil of the 1960's.
The anger and frustration is legitimate and is not relegated only to the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party but significantly enough to the millennials who have flocked to the surprisingly strong candidacy of Bernie Sanders. What lies ahead at this juncture, assuming that both Trump and Clinton will succeed in wrestling their Party's respective nominations away from the establishment in the former case and insurgents in the latter, is the extent to which either can cobble together a coalition of the disaffected and independents to put together a winning campaign in the Fall.
It is axiomatic in the last half century that candidates play to their bases during the primaries and pivot to the center for the general election. But will the bases that have proven so powerful in this environment allow either candidate to do so without exacting a price of nonsupport or even more troubling a vote for the other candidate? That seems to be the essential question as we prepare for the next phase of the 2016 Presidential election.
Trump is already having to deal with defections on behalf of prominent Republicans worried about down-ballot consequences which could put into play at the least control of the U.S. Senate and a possibility of the House of Representatives as well. There is discussion of the possibility of a vibrant Republicans for Hillary campaign and the unnaturally strong calls for Republican unity are a bellwether of the concerns facing the party.
Clinton is facing a rebellion by Bernie supporters who are so invested in their candidate that they may either sit out altogether or in an astounding development may even turn to Trump. How could that be?
Millennials who are actively involved in a Presidential campaign or an electoral campaign of any kind for the first time could be energized by the notion that change for change sake is in order. This, of course, is somewhat irrational given that change can be either positive or negative and the relative distance between Trump and Sanders on the ideological spectrum is as different as night and day. However, there is a danger that millennials are not so much driven by ideological fervor as by a revolutionary zeal that puts far more importance on replacing the status quo than upon the substantive policies represented by either candidate.
This could pose a devilishly difficult and prickly political dilemma for the Clinton campaign as it attempts to mobilize the diverse components of a coalition that is definitely tilted in their favor. If the election were determined on strictly ideological or policy positions it would appear to be a slam dunk for the Clintonites due to their historical strengths with both minorities and women. But the new dynamic of a frustrated populace thoroughly confounded by the performance and direction of both the major political parties could upset the proverbial apple cart here.
Trump truly has his finger on the pulse of anger and fears of the populace. Whether or not he can build off of that edge is as unknown as it is dangerous. He certainly has outperformed any and all expectations up to this point. Hillary needs to assuage the passions of youths that have gravitated towards a Democratic Socialist and/or attempt to sway what is left of moderate Republicans largely in suburban populations in the Northeast and Southwest. It is a daunting proposition to think that one could do both so there may come a point where she needs Bernie to rally his troops to her side or cast her lot with what four years ago would have been the loyal opposition.
The election as best as I can tell will be Hillary's to lose, but once again Trump has been underestimated throughout the entire election experience to date. But it may be that what has truly been underestimated is the strength of disdain Americans feel towards their elected officials and governmental institutions at this point in time. Either way the strategic hallmark of this campaign will be how to deal with these seemingly contradictory conditions and if a decision is made to throw one under the bus, which one will it be?
This election truly will be one for the ages. It already has been.