Now, Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, is seriously considering an independent run for president if Trump and Bernie Sanders win their parties' nominations. Besides throwing a big wild card into the general election campaign, a Bloomberg challenge to Sanders and Trump would double down on two novel aspects of the race: like Sanders, Bloomberg is Jewish and, like Trump, Bloomberg is a billionaire.
Tina Fey’s latest portrayal of Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live was not just comedic perfection, it was a demonstration of how bizarre the 2016 campaign for president has become. Neither Fey nor Darrell Hammond (who inhabits his Donald Trump impersonation almost as completely as Fey does her embodiment of the former Alaska governor) had to exaggerate very little to create their own version of Palin’s Iowa speech endorsing Trump. The real event was as weirdly funny as the parody.
“They say Trump and his trumpeters are right-wingin’, bitter-clingin’, proud of clingers of our guns,” Fey said, melding passages of Palin’s daffy diatribe. “But he can kick ISIS ass, because he commands fire.”
“She’s crazy, isn’t she?” Hammond’s Trump responded in an aside to the camera that gave voice to the real Trump’s odd facial expressions throughout Palin’s speech.
Palin is a blast from the past, of course. Her season to shine on the political stage was the fall campaign of 2008. This year, she is a mere supporting player in a political reality show that no one would have believed possible only a few years ago. Campaign 2016 has all the attributes of a riotous Carl Hiaasen satirical novel filled with eccentric characters whose actions and words get more unhinged with every page.
For almost all of this country’s history, presidential candidates were white guys in suits who had served in Congress or who had been governors or generals. They had gravitas, or did their best to pretend that was so. The current campaign has brought us something completely different, a scenario that would be considered too over-the-top if it had been written as a script.
Start with the Democrats: The leading candidate is not just the first woman with a real chance to become president, she is a former first lady who became a senator and a secretary of State. That kind of unlikely combination has not even come close to happening, even on political fantasy shows like “Scandal.” And who is her main rival for the nomination? He is a septuagenarian socialist in a country where youth is worshiped and the word “socialism” has long been greeted with fear and loathing.
Then there is the Republican field: The front-runner is a boorish casino-building billionaire who starred in his own reality TV show. Next in line is a U.S. senator, born in Canada to a Cuban father, who is so despised by his fellow senators that many of them are willing to back the billionaire who disdains them all as “losers.” And further down the pack is an African American brain surgeon with no political experience who looks and talks as if he swallowed a mouthful of Ambien.
And there are more: A boyish junior senator from Florida whose parents are Cuban immigrants; the female CEO of a big corporation who was fired for poor performance and then got pummeled in a California senate race; the Springsteen-loving governor of New Jersey, a bullying fat guy who is in trouble because his staff shut down a commuter bridge in an act of political retribution; and an evangelical preacher turned politician turned right-wing TV personality who has his own weight problems.
That is not the end of the list, of course. Most prominent among the others is a guy whose father and brother were both presidents, yet, even with a mountain of campaign money, cannot buy his way into double digits in the polls.
Because the campaign has already been underway for a year, these characters have become almost normalized in our minds, but it ain’t so. This is not normal. There has never been a bigger collection of candidates who are so far outside traditional expectations.