Editorial: Something’s happening here in the Republican presidential race

Two weeks after the Republican Party first presidential primary debate, Donald Trump’s unlikely and unruly candidacy still rules the top of the roost among the 16 or more GOP candidates. Even after his insulting comments about women and specifically about Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, late last week he led polls with 17 percent (and falling), followed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker with 12 percent, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio at 10 percent and African-American retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 9 percent. Texas Senator Ted Cruz and California businesswoman Carly Florina tied with 7 percent followed by establishment favorite Jeb Bush at 5 percent.
As Washington Postcolumnist Eugene Robinson noted last week, the Republicans are a party “in total chaos,” though his best line was when he cited the Buffalo Springfield song by way of trying to explain the GOP race and the confounding early poll results: “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.”
That may the understatement of the campaign to date.
While Republicans are facing what is at times a laughable political circus with Trump as ringmaster, the Democratic race has grabbed national attention due to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ serious challenge to front-runner Hillary Clinton and to the growing populist appeal of Sanders’ message. That he has attracted the largest crowds of the campaign by any candidate keeps making national news at each major venue, as well as his straight talk on the issues.
The contrast between the two parties couldn’t be starker.
Clinton is having to match Sanders’ on many of his signature issues: his free college education proposal, his more aggressive approach to the dangers posed by climate change, his populist attack on income inequality, his push to overturn Citizens v United, and his continued push for single payer health care, breaking up banks that are too big to fail, expanding voting rights, and on and on. Meanwhile, while taking the lead on some issues, Clinton is  having to defend her record on foreign affairs and her term as Secretary of State. While behind in the polls in N.H. and Iowa, however, she still has a sizable lead among voters nationwide.
Leading Republican candidates, on the other hand, are stuck distancing themselves from Trumps’ outrageous insults to important voting blocks, while holding many of the same policies that are merely couched in less offensive language.
With such sharp contrasts, it’s clear there’s something new happening on the nation’s political scene. Whether it’s a temporary blip on the road to politics as usual, or something earth-shaking, ain’t exactly clear. It is exciting, however, and we’re thrilled to see Bernie with his unexpected momentum and the opportunity to spread his message throughout the country.

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