The two surprises in this early presidential election season have been the strength of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. It is much to early to tell if these showings will end up in the forgotten footnotes of presidential politics like the candidacies of Howard Dean and Herman Cain to name just a couple of surprisingly strong early campaign figures in recent history. Or, will one or both end up as an insurgent candidate like Barack Obama upsetting all the pundits and prognosticators? They could not be more different from each other and disagree on most any issue you could name: foreign policy, women’s issues, race, taxation etc. To make my prejudices clear at the outset I find Trump to be an annoying, narcissistic, overbearing, politically inexperienced, jackass with a soul so ugly that it hurts my feelings (to paraphrase the philosopher Moms Mabley.) On the other hand Sanders’ progressive policies and understanding of the current situation are much closer to my own and the man could not be more dissimilar to Trump. For the moment though I want to put my own feelings aside to try to take an objective look at the situation.

The two candidates are in structurally analogous positions within their respective presidential contests. Both are long-shot candidates but the similarities go deeper than that. Each is the personification of what the other’s base would see as the anti-Christ. Trump’s base sees Sanders as a radical socialist who would take away their guns and freedom.  Sanders’ base sees Trump as the epitome of billionaire capitalism taking over the political system and trying to buy the government for their own interests. Within their own bases however they are seen as the anti-candidates who are not afraid to speak the truth (as they see it) to the do-nothing leeches in the political system who have frozen real action into a political quagmire that gets nothing done. Each is therefore trying to appeal as a populist candidate as opposed to the establishment candidates others like Hilary and Jeb!. Their appeal is therefore similar and the support they are receiving is in part a rejection of status quo politics;  above all they advocate change in the political agenda. The growth of their support is the electorate saying “none of the above” to the usual list of candidates. Some other “insurgent candidates” e.g. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina are therefore also doing well.

The insurgent candidates have been able to appeal to a section of the electorate base with plain talk, braggadocio, and chutzpah which tells us little about how they would govern. The problem with these insurgent candidates is that even if they win they have to negotiate through a political system in which they have minimal support.  Unless the Congress changes radically too we will be stuck with the same quagmire that we have now: a political system in which the executive and the legislature are constantly at odds with each other. Unless the legislative majority moves to the left in case Sanders wins or to the right in case Trump wins (God forbid) the odds are that neither would be an effective president. I am not advocating that one should or shouldn’t vote for one candidate or another at this point.  Let’s see how it plays out. I am arguing that if you support one of these candidates you should also realize that you have to bring the same zeal to turn the Congress around.

The effect of these candidacies has been to push the other candidates to take stands, issue sound bites, and make stump speeches about the insurgent candidates’ agendas. In the competition for media attention the insurgent candidates have drawn the spotlight from the mainstream candidates. The mainstream candidates have responded by saying “me too,” attacking the insurgents, or working behind the scenes to blunt their insurgencies. In doing so they reveal their respective party’s real colors or at least what they hope will sway their respective bases.

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