Is Donald Trump trying to win my vote? I ask because the Orange One has been making some statements lately that are almost, well, progressive. Most notable was his recent attack on the most holy of Republican shibboleths, that "George W. Bush kept us safe" from terrorism during his presidency.
Trump contended, as have many Democrats and liberals since 2001, that Bush shouldn't get a pass on the 9/11 attacks, because he was warned repeatedly about Osama bin Laden's plans to strike the U.S. and ignored them. As Trump put it: "That's [like saying] the other team scored 19 runs in the first inning, but after that, we played well. I don't think so." Zing.
In last Saturday night's debate, Trump also defended Planned Parenthood, saying that the organization does some "good things for women's health." You could almost see the other GOP candidates' heads explode. Trump is the honey badger candidate. He really doesn't give a sh*t. And therein lies his power, as the GOP party establishment is discovering, much to its horror. A lot of folks aren't buying the usual party lines this year.
Things aren't much different on the Democratic side, as maverick "democratic socialist" Bernie Sanders continues to disrupt Hillary Clinton's second preordained waltz to that party's nomination. The feisty septuagenarian is winning votes from a coalition of old hippies, social leftists, and perhaps most surprisingly, young people.
But it really isn't that surprising when you remember that a major plank in Bernie's platform is free tuition at public universities. This message resonates powerfully for the millions of twenty-somethings who've left college with a massive tuition-loan debt hanging over their lives.
It remains to be seen whether Trump and Sanders can sustain momentum through the eight-month slog of primaries ahead, but it's not unprecedented for a candidate from the far wings of either party to grab the nomination. Barry Goldwater carried the flag for GOP ultra-conservatives in 1964 and got trounced by Lyndon Johnson. The pendulum swung the other way in 1972, as left-wing Democrats threw the nomination to George McGovern, who got destroyed by Richard Nixon. The American electorate usually breaks to the center.
But there could be another dynamic in play. Trump flirted again this week with running as a third-party candidate if the GOP didn't "treat him fairly." You don't have to go too far back in history to see how that development can alter a presidential election: See Ross Perot, circa 1992, or Ralph Nader, circa 2000. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were the beneficiaries of those quixotic ego trips.
It's still possible, of course, that both parties will eventually pick a "safe" candidate, which could lead to another Bush vs. Clinton race. (Please, no.) But it's also possible that we could get a contest between Sanders and Trump, which would be equal parts mind-boggling, entertaining, and terrifying.
Super Tuesday is only two weeks away. If you want to have a say in the electoral process, please vote. The stakes have seldom been higher. Or weirder.