- - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Experts in Washington and in the news media are having a hard time coming to grips with the insurgencies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

For the last eight months, traditional Republicans have rejected the notion of a Trump presidency even though he has led the national polls every day since his announcement on June 16, 2015.

Pundits were amused by Sanders’ candidacy but “everybody” “knew” that a 74-year-old socialist with no national organization and no big-money backers could not seriously challenge Hillary Clinton.

Again and again, Trump and Sanders do things that would discredit and crush normal campaigns.

Trump is now attacking the legacy of President George W. Bush in South Carolina, where the former president is at 84 percent approval among the state’s Republicans.

Sanders is increasingly critical of the failure of President Obama to address the needs of African Americans and other minorities.

Trump’s rivals hit him on stage and in advertising. Hillary goes after Sanders. Nothing seems to harm either candidate.

In fact, Trump and Sanders are mirror images of the same phenomenon.

There is a huge alienated, angry block on the right and a big alienated, angry block on the left.

Both candidates make promises that, to their competitors and to the news media, seem outrageous, irresponsible and impossible to implement. Their supporters shrug off the criticism.

Each candidate is living in an alternative universe which has virtually nothing to do with the establishment politics of the two parties.

Both men tend to be literalists.

When Trump says he will build a wall with Mexico, he means he will build a wall with Mexico.

When Sanders says he wants universal health care, he means he wants universal health care.

Because they exist in alternative universes from the normal political and news media establishment, neither man worries about the kind of implementation details that are the gold standard of the traditionalists on both the right and the left.

Because both Trump and Sanders are appealing to people who are deeply alienated from the current system, their supporters ignore all the traditional attacks that would work against normal candidates.

And because their supporters are signing up for a vision of a boldly different future, they shrug off the kind of mistakes and misstatements that would destroy normal candidates.

Sophisticated, experienced analysts keep underestimating both candidates because they translate them back into the centrist politics that have dominated Washington in the modern era, in which left and right competed for the center.

Trump and Sanders have blown up that model with campaigns that appeal to and grow universes on the left and right. Only when analysts realize that we now have a three-universe political environment — traditional centrist deal-makers, populist conservative nationalists, and culturally radical socialists — will they begin to understand the dynamic we are living through.

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