Everyone can agree that the 2016 presidential race has been full of surprises. Nobody knows what’s next, and few seem able to figure out what just happened.
Here, in descending order, are PoliZette’s top 12 surprises of the campaign so far:
12. Gov. Scott Walker
Who would be the fighter in the GOP pack? Well, everyone knew it was Scott Walker, who slayed the unions in Wisconsin, won two elections and beat back a recall attempt in a blue state. But then another certified pugilist, Donald Trump, entered the race, and his brash style made Walker seem like a kindly friend to lost pets by comparison. Some polls gave Walker nearly a quarter of the vote in Iowa as late as this spring, but he has since sunk to a comparatively ignominious RealClearPolitics polling average of 6.4 percent in the Hawkeye State.
11. Lincoln Chaffee
The biggest surprise about the former Rhode Island senator and governor is that he ever got into the race in the first place. Scientists are studying the matter to try to figure out what provoked his candidacy. Maybe it’s another consequence of global warming. Hard to know.
10. Mike Huckabee
He was going to corner the market among evangelical voters and conquer Iowa like he did in 2008, when he grabbed over a third of the vote in a crowded field. Then, he’d ride the momentum into New Hampshire, where this time he’d be ready to keep the good times rolling instead of falling to third place. Instead, Huckabee is nowhere to be found, either in Iowa — where his poll numbers have fallen from double digits to 3 percent — or nationally, where he is also in the low single digits.
9. Taxes. Who Cares?
A Republican primary where everyone is running to the right but almost nobody talks about taxes? Jeb Bush found out this week when he released his tax plan to a chorus of gaping yawns. With President Obama having nearly wrecked the country, everyone is focused on more existential issues, such as the swamping tide of immigration, globalization within a world whose values are alien to Americans, foreign interventions that have killed thousands of young men, and the prospect of a bunch of raving lunatics in Tehran possessing nuclear weapons.
8. Bobby Jindal
He’s smart. A true conservative. A governor. An Indian-American who realized the American Dream. For years, he’s been touted as the Next Big Thing in Republican circles. RCP average: 0.
7. Gov. Chris Christie
He was supposed to be the unpredictable, unstoppable, endlessly colorful force in the race. But Christie has seemed strangely subdued, while Trump has seized the bull-in-a-china-shop mantle from him. Christie is at 2.8 percent in the RCP national average of polls, tied with Rick Perry, who everyone thinks is on his way to the exits.
6. Carly Fiorina
For weeks before the first debates in August, the dirty little secret of the race was that Carly Fiorina, who had waged only one campaign before, was blowing away audiences around the country. Then she took the stage at the GOP warmup debate in Cleveland and made mincemeat of her rivals, letting the world in on the fact that she was more than ready for prime time. She is now in a respectable tie for sixth place with Scott Walker. But don’t mention that she might be a great choice for VP — she says that’s sexist.
5. Conservative Commentators
Stuck behind their laptop screens at various downtown addresses in Washington, they almost all missed the revolution bubbling up from within their own ranks. And they still don’t really understand it, waiting for Trump to go away and wondering if he is flushing all their theories and thoughts down the toilet. But the commentariat doesn’t get what the proletariat knows: Thoughts won’t suffice during this time of crisis, and a man of action may be the only thing standing between America and death by Socialist Paradise.
4. Ben Carson
Anyone who would have said a retired pediatric neurosurgeon would be second in the polls at this point would have been told to have their head examined. But here he is, the professorial nonpolitician, sitting comfortably at a RCP-national 13.5 percent. He seems so nice; it’s probably going to be difficult for anyone to take him down without seeming nasty themselves. In the most anti-political presidential election year anyone can remember, a doctor prescribing common sense is just the cure, it seems.
3. Jeb Bush
What? Jeb Bush in single digits? The man who was supposed to be the giant of the race is at 9.3 percent in the RCP national tally. That’s less than a third of the support racked up by Trump, 4 points less than Ben Carson, and just a few points ahead of six other rivals. Bush has made totally unexpected gaffes from someone who has been exposed to the political world since birth. He has seemed to lack the fire and even the awkward charm of his brother and his father. He and his allied PACs, however, have raised more than $120 million and certainly are cooking up some nasty TV ad surprises of their own for Trump.
2. Hillary Clinton
Hillary’s coronation was completely ruined by the court jester, Bernie Sanders, an obscure socialist senator from Vermont who somehow stole the crown jewels and now leads Clinton in New Hampshire. Meantime, the man who sits next to throne, Vice President Joe Biden, is thinking of getting in, too. Perhaps the only surprise is that everyone is so surprised. Clinton has never been a natural politician — she’s in the process of trying to be herself, just like in 2008 — and a robust scandal or two was almost inevitable. I mean, this is the Clintons we’re talking about.
1. Donald Trump
From the moment of his tacky announcement-speech entrance via escalator, Trump has been the butt of the establishment’s jokes and the subject of its political obituaries. But that which doesn’t kill Trump makes Trump stronger, and he is now at 27.8 percent in the RCP national average and leading by about the same share in both Iowa and New Hampshire. It doesn’t matter if he makes mistakes. It doesn’t matter if he keeps his platform largely to himself. It doesn’t matter if he does all the things political pros say are certain, sudden death to a campaign. He could forget all three of the agencies he wants to eliminate, as long as he seemed sure of himself doing it, which he would. Trump thrives and shows no sign of fading.
This piece first appeared on PoliZette.