Stranger things have happened in American politics, but the sudden surge of Democratic/Populist Bernie Sanders and Republican/Pompulist Donald Trump puts one in mind of alternate universes.
And I don't mean Miss Universes.
Both men are holding second place in some polls behind Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, respectively. And both are steadily ascending in the polls at a greater pace than anyone could have predicted -- or imagined.
Sanders, a socialist running on a platform that should send shivers up the spines of most Americans, drew the largest crowd of the season -- nearly 10,000 -- in Madison, Wisconsin, Wednesday night. The anti-establishment candidate, who wants to break up big banks and redistribute wealth, makes President Obama (and Clinton) look like robber barons by comparison.
Although Madison is a liberal college town and Sanders' record crowd could be rationalized accordingly, poll after poll shows him closing the gap with Clinton. A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday morning put him within 19 points of Clinton among likely Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa. Quinnipiac surveyed 761 likely Iowa Democratic caucus participants, with humans calling cell and land phones, and with a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points.
Meanwhile, A WMUR/CNN Granite State poll put Sanders just eight points below Clinton in New Hampshire.
As Sanders remarked in Madison upon seeing the throng that greeted him, "Whoa."
At the same time Sanders is on the zoom rail, mysterious things are happening around the candidacy of the Trumpster. Some of you may recognize him as the cartoon character eternally lost in a game of Monopoly, sort of the way Beetlejuice was confined to miniature quarters in the movie of the same name. (No matter what happens, do not say "Trump!" thrice in a row.)
He is otherwise known for: the buildings he has named after himself; a couple of TV shows he has hosted, the names of which escape me now; his hair, which he recently averred is his own; his vast fortune, about which he can't stop bragging -- and a proportionately small mouth for someone famous for having such a big one.
To wit: His recent commentaries about Mexican immigrants as rapists, drug runners and criminals. And, he added, "some, I assume, are good people."
Why, there's a good one right over there -- mowing Trump's Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago estate lawn. Hola, Paco, que tal?
Trump's insulting tirade has had the dual effect of getting him fired from NBCUniversal, Univision, Macy's (and counting) for comments unbecoming an icon and getting him feted as The Iconoclast that Republicans have been waiting for. If you're a member of the Republican base, a candidate can't be too anti-immigration, too anti-Common Core -- or too rich, apparently.
Even as Trump's various enterprises are vanishing -- and support among, I dunno, let's call them "sane Americans" is waning -- he has doubled down on comments that could as easily have been retracted with an apology. Here's a sample for future reference: "Of course, I didn't mean that all Mexicans are rapists. I was upset by some of the statistics I've read and just mouthed off without more carefully considering the full impact my words could have on others. I'm sorry." (Warning: Do not add: Some of my best friends are Mexican.)
But no. Instead, commenting on a 2014 Fusion story about Latin-American women being raped as they traveled to the U.S. across Mexico, "Well, somebody's doing the raping, Don!" he retorted when CNN anchor Don Lemon gave him a chance to think things through. "I mean, somebody's doing it!" Trump said. "Who's doing the raping? Who's doing the raping?"
Trump has a point there. Someone is doing the raping, assuming the Fusion story is true. And the same Fusion story that claimed that 80 percent of Central American women and girls are raped as they cross through Mexico to the U.S. also answered Trump's question: "Perpetrators can be coyotes, other migrants, bandits, or even government authorities."
Hmmm, so not necessarily those who then funnel into North America?
See? Logic isn't so hard, but rant over reason is so much more effective in attracting attention.
Trump's fans say they like his blunt talk, that he says what they're thinking. He's BOLD! Indeed. But bold and blunt wear thin after a while.
And America, though keen to hear fresh voices and ideas, isn't ready for either a Robin Hood or a King John in the White House.
Enjoy the show, everybody. But rest assured: This too -- and these two -- shall pass.