POLITICS

The Presidential Campaigns' 10 Biggest Surprises Of 2015

Even the geniuses at First to Last can get it wrong. Boy, did we.

So, let’s spin this, shall we?

Life is supposed to be full of surprises. It wouldn’t be any fun if it didn’t confound you every once in awhile. It wouldn’t be interesting if everything went according to Hoyle. Why, it was at this point in the last election cycle that one of us -- we won’t say who [Editor’s Note: It was Jason.] -- said, “Rick Santorum is the candidate in the race that every conservative likes, but no one wants to particularly vote for." It’s a thing that can happen to anyone [Editor’s Note: And in this case it happened to Jason. Repeat, JASON.]

As Dylan Byers and MacKenzie Weinger once wrote for Politico, "Pundits and reporters are naturally wary of picking a winner in a tight election, because getting it wrong is a nightmare scenario." There’s an irony here, and in case you missed it, it’s that this assertion is, itself, incorrect.

At any rate, here at the end of this calendar year, the tradition is to pause to reflect. We’ll do so by fulfilling our obligation to you, by enumerating some of the events that caught us unawares, the things that flummoxed our senses, the scenarios that defied our credulity, and the stuff that we just plain got wrong.

RANK LESSON
1
THE DONALD
We’ve had it all wrong: He won’t run. He isn’t serious. He won’t gain traction. His outrageous statements -- the Wall, the Door, shutting down the Internet, barring Muslims -- will destroy him. Now he’s praising Putin from the stump. Yeah, well, he’s the front-runner, with a lengthening lead, and traditional norms don’t mean a thing.
2
THE IRRELEVANCE OF THE SO-CALLED GOP ESTABLISHMENT
After this year we aren’t sure it even exists. Their money is supplanted by Super PACs. Their suggestions go unheeded. They can’t decide on a consensus candidate. Now they’re hoping that Mitt Romney somehow can restore order. Now THAT is desperation.
3
THE DEMOCRATS SUCCEEDED AT HIDING THEIR OWN DEEP DIVISIONS FOR AS LONG AS THEY DID
At Hillary’s behest, they buried the debates on weekends as she methodically tap-danced to stage left to push Bernie out of the picture while no one was watching. Then Sanders' camp got caught with their hand in some data that didn't belong to them, and we've our first real "Dems In Disarray" session. Still, they somehow kept it chill for a long time.
4
THERE'S A BUSH WHO'S BAD AT POLITICS
Unless this was all an elaborate retirement package for Mike Murphy, we’ve got to ask: Where did that $100 million go? Jeb, we hardly knew ye.
5
THE MOST POPULAR DEMOCRATS ARE THE ONES WHO DIDN'T RUN
Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren will still have a role: as the two people Hillary has to woo over to have a chance to win in November.
6
HOW DONALD TRUMP MAKES TED CRUZ LOOK SEMI-NORMAL
It is a scary world we live in. Cruz can’t hide his malevolent persona, but if he can be a millimeter less crazy on this issues than Trump, he can become acceptable. Even now, Beltway Republicans, who despise Cruz, are trying to learn how to love him.
7
THERE ARE STILL SOME PEOPLE WHO LOVE A WHISPERING WEIRDO WHO INSISTS HE TRIED TO STAB A GUY
Most presidential candidates would move heaven and earth to keep their opponents from finding out they once tried to stab a guy. Ben Carson, however, is a different kind of candidate.
8
EARLY SMART-MONEY PICK SCOTT WALKER DIDN'T FLAME OUT, HE NEVER IGNITED
Was the bald spot just too weird and unsettling?
9
FOR ALL THE GOP'S STRUGGLES, HILLARY IS NOT HOME FREE
The country is in a foul, anti-establishment mood, and there is no more established -- entrenched -- politician in America than “HC” (Other, minor, surprise: she dropped the Rodham).
10
WE LOVE UNDERDOGS AND WERE HOPING MARTIN O'MALLEY WOULD PROVE US WRONG
He didn't.
Photos: Getty, Associated Press
CONVERSATIONS