Presidential race puzzles UDM experts

The presidential campaign has University of Detroit Mercy political observers puzzled.

“The only word I can use to describe this race is shocking,” said political science professor Dr. Genevieve Meyers. “No one could have fathomed the things that have happened so far in this race.”

Next week, the first primary caucus will take place in Iowa, a major moment for all presidential hopefuls.

Much has changed since the beginning of the race.

Donald Trump, the New York developer and reality show star, was considered by many to be just an entertainment stunt, with Jeb Bush, the ex-Florida governor and son of one president and brother to another, thought to be the likely Republican nominee. And Senator Bernie Sanders, who has held office as a socialist, was viewed as having no chance against Democrat Hillary Clinton, the former senator, Secretary of State and First Lady.

Now, Trump is leading in most Republican surveys, Ted Cruz has risen significantly to just behind him, Bush has fallen drastically, and Sanders is pressuring (or surpassing) Clinton in most polls.

This has been one of the most unpredictable campaign seasons.

“Political scientists are baffled by this race, on both sides,” said Dr. Stephen Manning, professor and department chair of political science. “What we’ve got on both sides are outsiders that are doing well.”

The typical mainstream Democrat and Republican hopefuls are not performing strongly.

Bush, a mainstream conservative, was considered the ideal establishment candidate for the Republican party. But that description is also why many Republicans say they will not support him, Manning said. As for the Democratic side, something similar might be going on, he noted.

“The Democratic party said, ‘This is Hillary’s if she wants it.’ And we have Bernie now, making a challenge against her,” he added. “The Clinton campaign is worried.”

According to the latest Huffington Post poll, 65 percent of voters feel that the U.S. is headed in the wrong direction, compared to 26 percent who view the outlook favorably. 

“Many American people feel that politics is corrupted, so the further away you are from the system, the less corrupt you are (perceived),” Manning said.

The current situation “is a result of great dissatisfaction in the country,” he said. 

For now, being an outsider is a good thing.

“Trump is the ultimate outsider because he has never held a public office before nor ever been elected to anything, so he can really claim he is not part of the Washington system. He’s not part of the problem,” Manning added. “Although Bernie has been in politics for a while, he’s kind of an independent, socialist type. He’s a little further left than the mainstream Democratic party.”

Both Trump and Sanders talk about their distance from Wall Street and big business corruption.

Trump is mostly funding his own campaign through his substantial wealth, and Sanders only accepts monetary donations from individuals and small businesses.

Chris Clark, a double major in the political science and criminal justice programs, is very interested to see where this race will go.

“Trump might actually be one of the smartest runners,” Clark said. “He knows how to shape completely illogical ideology into a winning electoral coalition. If Trump wins Iowa and New Hampshire, the rest of the calendar is stacked.” 

The first caucus in Iowa could point the nominees in a certain direction. Evangelicals play a significant role on the Republican side, which could favor Cruz, the Texas senator.

“Cruz could end up with the nomination. He appeals to more Republicans than Donald Trump,” said professor Meyers, because Trump also draws independents and some Democrats. “The Iowa caucus should tell us something, but it is going to be very tight. And I don’t think Bernie Sanders has the machinery Hillary Clinton does, so I think she will win the nomination.”

The remaining runners are wasting their time and should drop out, said both Meyers and Clark.

“It’s going to be entertaining,” Clark said. “I think Trump and Hillary will get the nominations. Hillary will probably end up with the win at the end, but I would not be surprised if Trump won.”

Brie Wilcox, a Canadian student, views the race differently than most Americans.

“The things I see and hear just seem absurd,” she said. “Nothing seems accurate of what is actually going to happen. Our (Canadian) elections for prime minister are so short.”

The most recent campaign in Canada lasted 11 weeks.

The U.S. campaign has been underway for months and won’t be decided until November.

“I can’t believe how long the races here last,” said Wilcox. “It seems like too much time.”

Noted professor Manning, “Only time will tell where this race will go.”