In many Presidential years, the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary have clarified the race and provided a roadmap to the nomination.
Not this year.
In some Presidential years, the winners of the first two contests have emerged as the odds-on favorites to go all the way to November.
Not this year.
In some other Presidential years, Iowa and New Hampshire have defined the issues and narrowed the debate.
Not in 2016.
Instead, the Presidential circus so far has defied conventional wisdom and set the entire process on its ear. Rather than bringing the picture into focus, the stunning if wacky victories of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders last Tuesday have muddled the picture and guaranteed a long slog to the nomination in each party.
So, in the interest of sanity and a semblance of coherence, let’s list a few points that have been established so far:
1. Donald Trump is for real. He is not going away. Against all the odds, he has made the transition from late-night punch line to formidable candidate. (Not, however, on Wednesday’s page one of The New York Daily News, which read: “Dawn of the Brain Dead: Clown comes Back to Life with N.H. Win as Mindless Zombies Turn Out in Droves”)
2. Bernie Sanders is for real. Against all the odds, he has made the transition from wispy-haired, 74-year-old self-declared socialist fringe candidate to current front-runner. Remarkably, he captured 73 per cent of New Hampshire’s independents as well as seven of 10 women under 45. He is still a remote prospect for the nomination, but cannot be dismissed.
3. Hillary Clinton has a real fight on her hands. She is still the likely nominee, barring another e-mail eruption, but she has got to find a way to communicate her considerable strengths and make her extensive experience a positive promise for the future, not a reminder of her age and past. And, oh yes, she needs to rally younger women.
4. Ted Cruz has a real problem. Despite his victory in Iowa and second-place in New Hampshire, he can’t shake the near-universal enmity of his Senate colleagues and his hard-right, super-conservative image. The GOP Establishment is convinced that if Cruz is the nominee in November, the party will lose the White House and both houses of Congress. On the other hand, he is not Donald Trump.
5. Marco Rubio has a real problem, too. Ridicule is the most lethal weapon in politics, and his robotic debate performance in New Hampshire has made him the inescapable butt of his opponents’ jokes. He has to demonstrate that he can think on his feet, answer a question and go off script.
6. Jeb Bush is not dead. That’s his Monty Python refrain and it is true. His close third in New Hampshire (Once again, ‘bronze is the new gold’) has given him license to head south to far friendlier South Carolina and the dozen primaries on Super Tuesday, March 1. There are some 30 contests to be fought in the first 15 days of March, so Jeb may live to fight again if at least some of his big contributors come back to the fold.
7. Michael Bloomberg might still become the second billionaire in the race. He has said all along that if Trump and Sanders are the nominees, he might pony up $1billion or so of his estimated $39 billion fortune to finance an independent candidacy. Of course, Ross Perot tried that in 1992 and won 19 per cent of the vote, the most by a third-party candidate since Theodore Roosevelt in 1912. A Bloomberg run seems unlikely, but in a campaign as strange and unpredictable as this one, who is to say?