Ben Carson

Untypical, Unelectable Politicians Prospering

Anti-candidates and unconventional politicians once thought unelectable now are dominating political polls, suggesting politics as usual and traditional American optimism may be in for a vacation.

Anti-candidates and unconventional politicians once thought unelectable now are dominating political polls, suggesting politics as usual and traditional American optimism may be in for a vacation.

Politics-as-usual has never been popular. In the coming election year, it may be lethal.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll reveals 72 percent of Americans believe politicians can't be trusted and 66 percent think the country's political system is dysfunctional. Not exactly a solid foundation to run for re-election. Twenty-one percent want a President who will tear down the current system and start over.

This perhaps explains voter attraction to anti-candidates such as Donald Trump and Ben Carson and unconventional politicians such as Bernie Sanders. Policy positions matter less than style. Deliberate thought takes a back seat to brash talk. Compromise is scorned and anger is rewarded.

The mood has shivers running down the back of incumbents. Even establishment outsiders have felt the chill. Jeb Bush is still treated in the media as the likely winner, even though 60 percent of Republicans prefer someone from outside the political establishment. South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham has been stonewalled in his home state. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has gone from pack leader to a camp follower in the Republican presidential primary.

The non-politicians are playing to this electoral discontent with dark rhetoric, as laid out in a story in the Sunday New York Times.  Trump calls America a "hell hole" run by "stupid" leaders who are steering the nation toward becoming a "third world country." Texas Senator Ted Cruz sees menaces from without and within, as evidenced by the "lawlessness" of jailing a Kentucky county clerk for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples under "authority from God."

The trend is confounding GOP pollsters who have pushed candidates to follow Ronald Reagan's example and stress optimism. Bush and Ohio Governor John Kasich have generally optimistic messaging, but they are drowned out by strains of negativism.

"Today, conservatism is much more mean spirited, angry, not optimistic and much more viscerally divisive," according to Matthew Dowd, a former top strategist for President George W. Bush.

Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, told the New York Times, "I know everyone should be optimistic, should be sunny and cheerful. And there's something weird and wrong if you're not. But really? Is the country on the right track or the wrong track?"

The Washington Post-ABC News poll shows the wariness of voters has taken its toll on Hillary Clinton's credibility as her private email soap opera has continued. According to poll results, less than 50 percent of Democrats want Clinton as the party's nominee and the largest defections from her earlier support are among white women. The beneficiary of Clinton's decline has been Sanders, who pushes his liberal economic agenda in convincingly earnest tones that seems to connect with disaffected Democrats.

For the first time, Clinton finds herself neck-and-neck with Trump in a prospective general election battle, which challenges mainstream logic about Trump's electability. That same belated realization about who is electable and who isn't could give Sanders another bump, pushing him into the lead.

For those who still believe the 2016 presidential election will pit the family dynasties of Clinton versus Bush, there is the overwhelming election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of Britain's Labour Party. Corbyn's far-left agenda may not appeal to rank-and-file Labour Party members, but their voices were swamped by more than 100,000 new voters who weighed in on the choice. Not long ago, Corbyn was considered too liberal to gain power. But politics as usual seem to be out of favor in a lot of ways and a lot of places.

Winnowing Presidential Wannabes

Candidates are spending more time talking about airing their dirty laundry than issues.

Candidates are spending more time talking about airing their dirty laundry than issues.

This is the time in the election cycle when presidential candidates spend less time talking to voters than to donors, as well as less time talking about issues than skeletons in their closets.

Viability is determined by how much money you can bank and whether you can withstand blowback from past indiscretions, missteps or wayward relatives.

Take Hillary Clinton, for example. She is weathering attacks about donations from foreign interests to the Clinton Foundation, her use of private email as secretary of state and influence peddling by her younger brother. Mixed in there is the weirdly timed revival of Monica Lewinsky's involvement with Bill Clinton. All this baggage has taken a toll in Hillary Clinton's confidence level, but not her electability. She still leads the field by solid margins.

Clinton isn't alone in vetting political laundry, though in some cases, the vetting doesn't appear intentional. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee flubbed Sunday news show questioning about his endorsement of a diabetes drug that health professionals claim has no proven value. Huckabee, who entered the GOP presidential race last week, also faced questions about his ethics as governor when he purportedly asked friends to shower him with gifts.

Senator Marco Rubio is under the microscope because of his relationship to a political super daddy in Florida. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has received scrutiny for some of his business associations. Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina has been criticized for her performance as the top dog at the high tech giant, for running a bungling campaign for the U.S. Senate and not ever holding elected office.

Then there is retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson who has won right-wing disciples, but raised the eyebrows or just about everyone else for some of his political comments, such as one that coupled homosexuality with pedophilia and bestiality. He also called Obamacare the "worst thing to happen" since slavery.

Carson's jaw-dropping comments have poached on political space normally occupied by Senator Ted Cruz, who once compared Obamacare to Nazism, but now has enrolled in the national health insurance exchange, and former Senator Rick Santorum, who proudly told the National Rifle Association he gave ammo to his wife for her birthday.

For voters straining to find out what presidential wannabes plan to do about issues such as fighting Islamic State jihadists here and abroad, negotiating international trade deals or reducing income inequality, they will have to wait. This isn't the time to promise what you will do; it is time to air out what you have done. And raise money, piles of money.

This is the American way of winnowing the field of hopefuls. Air dirty laundry early while asking big donors for millions in donations. The candidates who can land on their feet and bag the most campaign cash will be the ones we ultimately get to vote on, whether we like it or not.